A new federal funding bill that does not include money for a program that compensates counties for untaxed public lands has county commissioners across the nation concerned.
If Congress decides not to fund the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, Tooele County’s 2014 general fund budget revenue could take a $3.1 million hit.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an omnibus spending bill Tuesday that wraps all 12 of the usual bills that deal with discretionary spending into one piece of legislation.
Once approved by the Senate, the bill will keep the federal government open until the end of the fiscal year in October. The current temporary spending resolution that ended the 16-day federal government shutdown in October 2013 expires on Saturday.
The $1 trillion of spending in the omnibus bill does not include any funding for federal Payment in Lieu Of Taxes (PILT), which is a federal program that compensates counties with federal lands in their jurisdiction.
In 2013, the federal government sent nearly $402 million to counties to compensate for non-taxed federal lands.
To counties like Tooele, where the federal government owns a large chunk of ground, the dollars received from PILT are an essential part of the county’s ability to provide essential services, according to Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg.
In 2013 Tooele County received $3.2 million in PILT funds.
“PILT accounts for around 15 percent of our annual revenue,” said Clegg. “If PILT goes away, we will be in trouble.”
However, Utah’s congressional delegation is confident that despite the absence from the omnibus spending bill, PILT funding will continue.
“You will probably continue to hear a lot of speculation about PILT,” said Utah’s 2nd District Congressman Chris Stewart. “That’s because we know that PILT will be funded, but we don’t know how we will get it done. No leader in Congress is against funding PILT. They all agree that it must be funded.”
The support for PILT is bi-partisan, according to Stewart.
“When I agree with Harry Reid on something you know you have bi-partisan support,” he said. Sen. Reid, a Democrat, is the Senate Majority Leader.
PILT may be funded through the farm bill, other legislation, or through stand alone legislation, according to Stewart.
The federal government first started paying PILT to counties in 1977.
In 2008 PILT was funded through 2012 by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. When that act expired, PILT was reauthorized for 2013 through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, a transportation funding bill.
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is also confident that PILT will be funded for 2014.
“We were pleased to hear today that Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor have pledged their support to ensure that qualifying counties receive 2014 funds,” said Bishop in a news release dated Jan. 14. “While many ideas are being considered, we are confident that we can find an appropriate legislative path for the measure.”
PILT distribution to counties is calculated using a formula provided by statute that includes the amount of eligible federal lands — primarily Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land, and the population of the county.
PILT eligible land in Tooele County includes 1,899,955 acres of Bureau of Land Management property and 150,234 acres of U.S. Forest Service land for a total of 2,050,189 acres — or 46 percent of Tooele County’s land mass.
Tooele County’s $3.2 million in PILT funds received in 2013 works out to $1.56 per acre of eligible land.
“PILT provides pennies on the dollar for what county taxing entities could get for the land,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in a speech delivered on the Senate floor on Jan. 14. “It is an insufficient, unsteady stream of income.”
PILT calculations do not include the 1,573,893 acres of military-owned land in Tooele County.
Between the military, BLM, and USFS, the federal government owns 82 percent of Tooele County.
Stewart said he is committed to find a long term, stable funding source for PILT.
“It is unfair that county commissioners have to sit on pins and needles worrying about PILT funding, which for many counties in Utah is a significant part of their overall budget,” he said.