The last paragraph on the jump from the front page of today’s Las Vegas newspaper — on page 5A and not 6A, as the front page says — reports:
“Western Republicans from timber country were anxious about a cutoff of funding of federal payments in lieu of taxes to towns surrounded by federal lands but were reassured that the payments would be extended through separate legislation.”
Nevada isn’t exactly timber country, but only 15 percent of the state is private taxable property while the rest is held in perpetuity by the feudal lords on the Potomac, who, since 1976, have deigned to dole out a couple of cents per acre to the local counties. This pittance is called PILT, Payment in Lieu of Taxes. For some rural Nevada counties the payment is still about 10 percent of the annual budget.
The 2013 PILT spending was only $400 million nationally and $23 million for Nevada.
Chandler Smith, Sen. Dean Heller’s press aide, reports that the senator believes the funding will eventually be allocated and he will continue to work to ensure Nevada receives this funding.
“Although bipartisan efforts to include PILT funding in the omnibus were unsuccessful, Senator Heller is currently reviewing a number of avenues, including possibly dropping his own legislation, to ensure that the federal government meets its obligations to public land counties,” She wrote. “He is right now talking to colleagues about the best path forward.
“Lack of funding in the omnibus is further proof that the federal government continues to shirk its responsibilities to rural areas of our state. PILT is not a discretionary fund to be used for other purposes. It is an obligation the federal government has to any county with public lands.”
Rep. Mark Amodei — whose congressional district covers northern Lyon county and all of Douglas, Carson City, Storey, Washoe, Humboldt, Pershing, Churchill, Lander, Eureka and Elko counties — told me this morning that leadership in the House has told him the PILT money will be included in the farm bill.
“The bottom factual line is we have the public commitment of leadership that it will done, it’s usually paid in June. They want to put it in the farm bill, so the question is when are you planning on doing the farm bill. I suspect we’ll take a serious look at the farm bill in February, since there is not a helluva lot of time left in January. …” Amodei said. “Right now were told in a large meeting in the speaker’s conference room yesterday afternoon, he fully supports it. It will get done.”
Amodei went on to say the Western congressman have some work to do to educate others in Congress about Western issues, noting that PILT is not welfare and the issue is not the money but the land. He even suggested that if Congress doesn’t want to pay the money it could just transfer land worth $23 million to the state.
An aide to Rep. Steven Horsford, who represents the rest of Nevada’s rural counties, as well a chunk of Clark County, emailed this statement from the congressman:
“While the budget deal is not perfect, it will fund programs important to Nevadans, provide stability in the budgeting process, and avert a potential government shutdown. There are items not included in this omnibus legislation that require additional attention, including provisions related to Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which is a critical program that funds vital services in rural counties.”
Horsford said the authorization for PILT expires at the end of June, but he would work with colleagues to ensure PILT funding continues.
Earlier Associated Press reports indicated the PILT money was dumped from Interior Department funding to leave room for spending on fighting wildfires on public land. But Amodei said PILT was taken out of the Interior budget in 2009 and put under TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program) at the behest of Sen. Harry Reid.
Heritage Foundation reports that while some funds were trimmed the budget negotiators still managed find enough loose change to spend $1.39 billion on Amtrak, $612 million for the failed and futile Head Start and enough money to not close rural Post Offices and deliver mail on Saturday. There was also money for Job Corps and local cops and firefighters.
This afternoon the House passed the $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating for eight and a half month.