U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and 27 of their Senate colleagues today requested that any end-of-year legislation include at least a two-year reauthorization of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) programs.
In a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the senators wrote, “Congress has an obligation to ensure counties with large swaths of federally-owned, tax-exempt forests and rangelands can adequately provide essential services for their residents. As history has proved, without the certainty of these two critical programs, schools, libraries, and jails will close.
The services counties continue to provide will see a reduction in staffing and resources. Roads will go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental health and physical health services will be scaled back and in some cases even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers will be forced to patrol larger and larger areas.
As we work to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our public lands provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, grazing opportunities, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term re-authorization of at least two years is critical to provide fiscal certainty for counties containing federally-owned lands.”
A copy of the full letter can be found online.
As part of a broader effort to ensure long-term financial stability for rural counties containing large swaths of federal lands, Wyden, Crapo, Merkley, Risch, Bennet and Gardner recently introduced legislation that would reauthorize the PILT program for ten years. Wyden, Crapo, Merkley and Risch earlier this year also introduced the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act to make SRS permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.