It is that time of year again. The Interior Department has just announced the paltry sums it will dole out this year to counties that have federal public lands from which they can collect no property taxes to support public services.
This year the feds are magnanimously returning to the counties a whopping $452 million in payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) out of the $11 billion they receive in revenue off those public lands – about 4 percent. That $11 billion is down from $14 billion in previous years, showing how poorly those lands are profitably managed. The money is generated from commercial activities such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.
“Rural communities contribute significantly to our nation’s economy, food and energy supply, and help define the character of our diverse and beautiful country,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had the audacity to boast in a statement. “These investments (PILT) often serve as a lifeline for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services like public safety, housing, social services and transportation.”
Since created by Congress in 1977 PILT payments have been calculated based on the number of acres of federal land within each county and its population.
This year Nevada is slated to get $25.6 million, up $400,000 from the previous year. Most counties will receive payments approximately the same as this past year, some more, some less.
Once again the PILT formula short changes Nevada compared to our neighboring states. Nevada is to get 45 cents an acre, up 4 cents from a year ago. Meanwhile, California is get $1.06 per acre, up 12 cents. Arizona is to get $1.24 an acre, up 12 cents. New Mexico, $1.69, up 15 cents. Utah, $1.17, up 12 cents.
If the states were allowed to control what are now federal lands, instead of getting 4 percent of the revenue, they could collect it all.
A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a year ago that the Bureau of Land Management, a division of Interior, loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls, while the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre. It also estimated the state could net $114 million by taking over just 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent.
For two years Rep. Mark Amodei has had pending a bill that calls for transferring federal land to the state in phases. The initial phase would authorize the state to select no less than 7.2 million acres of public land for conveyance to Nevada.
“These investments (PILT) are one of the ways the federal government can fulfill its role of being a good neighbor to local communities,” said Secretary Jewell in her statement.
Sounds more like paltry alms than a fair share to us.
A version of this editorial appears this past week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.