McInnis pushes for full funding of PILT |

McInnis pushes for full funding of PILT

Reimbursements for property taxes lost on federally owned land falls short $140 million

Josh Nichols

Moffat County received about $300,000 in reimbursements from the federal government for the 1.6 million acres of federal land located in the county last year.

But Rep. Scott McInnis says that’s not enough.

That federal money came through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program set up by the federal government in 1976 to reimburse local governments on property tax dollars lost due to federal land in a county.

But McInnis says the program has not been fully funded for years and was shortchanged $140 million last year.

Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said last year the county received about 61 cents per acre for its federal land through PILT.

It would have received $1.03 an acre if it were fully funded.

“The whole issue is one of fairness,” Dickinson said from his ranch in Moffat County. “The federal government is not paying its share of taxes to local government.”

McInnis, chairman of the resources subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, convened a joint Forests, National Parks, and Fisheries Subcommittee hearing Thursday to promote passage of H.R. 1811, which would provide full funding for PILT.

Blair Jones, spokesperson for McInnis’ office, said the fact that those different agencies all came together to discuss the bill was significant.

“This bill is definitely headed somewhere,” he said Thursday after the hearing.

Rio Blanco County Commissioner Don Davis testified at the hearing Thursday.

“Counties are the general purpose local government that must provide the local public services both for the federal employees and their families and for the users of federal lands,” he said, according to a press release put out by McInnis’ office. “There are more than 1,900 counties nationwide that are eligible to receive PILT.”

Since the PILT program was implemented in 1976, federal payments to local governments have rarely been fully funded, McInnis said.

He said Congress is not fulfilling an obligation it has to local governments.

“The admission that Congress made was that it would be fundamentally unfair for the federal government to own vast tracks of land within a county or municipality land that would otherwise provide local revenue in the form of property tax to fund roads, schools and other important social services and not reimburse the county for those revenue losses,” he said. “Remember, the federal government’s holdings are generally immune from state and local taxation. With that admission in mind, Congress made a promise to provide just and reasonable compensation to the local governments whose tax base is eroded by a large federal land ownership presence.”

The $140 million shortage in 2002 is significant, he said.

“In the scheme of the United States Treasury, this may not seem like a big deal,” he said. “Representatives of counties and other local governments including my good friend Don Davis who’s here to testify today will tell you otherwise.”

McInnis said it is necessary that PILT be fully funded.

“Now there are some who say we can’t afford permanent full funding of PILT,” he said. “I say we can’t afford not to.”

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