Funding cuts irk Colorado politicians

A move by the federal government to cut some funding to local counties has raised the ire of Colorado politicians.

President Bush's 2007 federal budget calls for cuts in the U.S. Department of the Interior, including a 15-percent cut in the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

The Department of the Interior gives PILT funds to counties to offset the cost of having federal lands within their borders.

Federal lands, such as Dino--saur National Monument and those administered by the Bureau of Land Management, can't be taxed. But counties must pay costs associated with federal lands, including the upkeep of roads and salaries of emergency responders.

In 2005, the program provided $17 million to Colorado counties, $330,000 of which went to Moffat County.

The federal government will dole out $198 million in PILT funding next year, down from $232 million this year.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Denver, said last week that the cuts in PILT would hurt rural counties that rely on the funding.

"Rural America is withering on the vine, and the administration's budget appears to turn a blind eye to the problem," Salazar said. "Cutting the PILT program sends the wrong message to rural America."

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said he wasn't aware of the plans to cut PILT, but any cuts in the program would hurt.

"That would be a disappointment to me," Gray said.

The funding is important because it offsets the cost of having federal lands, Gray said.

"If all of the land in the county was private, we would receive tax revenue to provide government services to the citizens," Gray said.

But as long as more than 50 percent of the county is federal land, Moffat County needs PILT funds to offset the cost.

Frank Quimby, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior, said the cuts in PILT are the result of a 3-percent cut in the department as a whole.

Quimby said although the cut seems substantial, last year's PILT funding was a record high.

The department has not determined yet how the cuts will affect PILT allotments to individual states or counties, Quimby said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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