Congressional Gridlock to cost Utah $35 Million

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Counties across America stand to lose more than $400 million in funding from the loss of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. Budget negotiators opted to leave PILT out of the FY2014 Omnibus spending bill, which passed Wednesday on a 359-67 vote.

Members of Utah’s congressional delegation, however, are optimistic that PILT will be included in the farm bill, which is expected to be voted on later this month. Western Republicans, including Utah Republican Representatives Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, and Chris Stewart, met with House leaders Tuesday. They were assured that PILT will be funded in the near future.

PILT, which was created in 1976, provides compensation to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to a significant amount of non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. Nearly 1,900 counties in forty-nine states receive PILT funding. Utah has long been one of the top states with regard to PILT funding. In 2013, Utah received $35.4 million, second only to California.

PILT payments allow rural counties to provide critical government services, including education, law enforcement, environmental compliance, parks and recreation, firefighting, solid waste disposal, search and rescue, parks and recreation, and health care.

Matt Chase, Executive Director of the National Association of Counties, urged Congress to act in a press release Monday. “We are deeply concerned that Congress would turn its back on more than 1,850 counties impacted by the presence of the U.S. government’s extensive holdings of public land,” Chase said. “Since October, counties have in good faith delivered vital county services to our citizens and visitors with the expectation that the federal government would honor its 37-year commitment to county governments who are unable to collect property taxes on more than 600 million acres of federal land.”

“There is still time to act, and we respectfully ask that the House and Senate leadership work to fully fund PILT for the current fiscal year in the Omnibus spending bill or through another legislative vehicle,” Chase said.

Bishop, who chairs the the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, said in a statement on his congressional website that “Many of us were given early assurances that PILT would be funded in the omnibus bill. Since learning last night that this would not be the case, I have joined with House colleagues from across the country to find a solution… Moving forward, we must fix the problem created in 2008 and determine a solid process that will ensure regular funding in the future. This is a discussion that I plan to lead over 2014 and beyond.”

In 2008, the Bush administration reformed the PILT program, changing it from a discretionary spending program that was part of the annual appropriations process to a fully funded entitlement program. At that time, congress funded the new PILT program from 2008 until June 2013. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), funded the program until June of this year, at which time, the money will no longer be available to counties.

Utah is slated to receive $35 million in PILT money this year. Hardest hit by the loss of PILT funds would be Tooele County, which would receive nearly $3.2 million this fiscal year. Other rural counties will not fair much better, losing millions unless congress acts. Iron County isn’t far behind, with a projected loss of $3 million. Other counties that stand to lose over $2 million in funds include: Box Elder ($2.89 million), Washington ($2.71 million), and Uintah ($2.68 million). 14 other counties would lose between $1 and $2 million, while Morgan county has the least to loose if PILT money were to dry up – just $30,000.