Newspaper column: Ownership of land better than paltry PILT payouts

It is that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their tin alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT).

Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

Just a few weeks ago the Trump administration budget for this year proposed limiting PILT funding to an average of the most recent 10 years or about $397 million, but this past week in Pahrump Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announced at a meeting with various Nevada officials that the PILT largesse this year will be $464.6 million, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. The about-face was roundly ignored.

But for some reason, also neither explained nor questioned, Nevada’s share of the booty increased by only 2 percent to $26.18 million, about the same as inflation.

There was much backslapping all around.

Secretary Zinke noted in a self-congratulatory press release that he grew up in northwest Montana, and, “I know how important PILT payments are to local communities that have federal lands. These investments are one of the ways the federal government is fulfilling its role of being a good land manager and good neighbor to local communities. Rural America, especially states out west with large federal land holdings, play a big part in feeding and powering the nation and also in providing recreation opportunities, but because the lands are federal, the local governments don’t earn revenue from them. PILT investments often serve as critical support for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services, such as public safety, fire-fighting, social services and transportation.”

Nevada Republican senior Sen. Dean Heller chimed in by saying, “Unlike other states, approximately 85 percent of Nevada lands are managed by the federal government, making the PILT program critical for local governments’ ability to maintain essential services like public safety and education.”

The state’s Democrat junior Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto did note the previous threats to trim PILT, saying, “From fixing roads to education to basic healthcare services, Nevadans have benefited from these resources for decades, despite constant threats of massive cuts to the program. I am pleased that Nevada will receive its largest grant in the program to date, which signals the Department of Interior’s recognition of PILT’s importance to Nevada and the need to boost our state’s rural communities.”

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen was quoted as saying, “With 98 percent of the land in Nye County being federally managed or owned, PILT is not seen as discretionary to us, and as such needs to be guaranteed.”

PILT payments are based on a formula that takes into account the number of acres of federal land in each county, as well as the population. It is a formula that defies explanation.

Nevada on average is getting 46 cents per acre, having a population of 2.9 million and 85 percent of its land under federal control. But New Mexico, with a population of 2 million and only 35 percent of its land under federal control, gets $1.72 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting 99 cents an acre.

Every state adjacent to Nevada is getting at least twice as much per acre.

The PILT payments also vary wildly by county, from a low of 7 cents an acre for Esmeralda County to a high of $2.71 per acre for Storey County. Other examples: Clark, 73 cents; Elko 46 cents; Eureka, 17 cents; Lincoln,14 cents; Mineral, 37 cents; White Pine, 24 cents. Dollars and acreage for all 1,900 counties getting PILT are available at:

Additionally, it should be noted that the PILT payouts amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.

Instead of sitting around with tin cups waiting for pitiful PILT handouts, Nevada should demand more control of its land and collect all of those revenues to reduce our tax burden.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.


16 comments on “Newspaper column: Ownership of land better than paltry PILT payouts

  1. deleted says:

    “It’s land”. Which land it owns, isn’t it controlling?

    But seriously Thomas, did you read the article in yesterday’s RJ about the public comments that have come in regarding the administrations “review” of national monuments? The article notes that the response is overwhelming, and overwhelmingly opposed to any changes.

    Can you believe it?

  2. deleted says:

    Apparently no one saw the article about the public comments pouring in from local God fearing Americans, asked for their opinions about this administrations plan to turn their land over to private parties at their expense.

    Here’s part of it:

    “The vast majority of public input on the review so far appears to favor the monument designations. An analysis conducted early in the process by the Denver-based conservation group Center for Western Priorities showed 96 percent of the comments supported the preservation of Bears Ears and the other monuments at their current size.”

    Makes you wonder, assuming the administration disregards these local voices, how long it would take for someone well known for taking up the banner of Washington bureaucrats disregarding local input on such issues?

    Let’s hope that, for once, we can postpone that fight for another day and those damn bureaucrats will do what, we the people, want them to!

  3. Steve says:

    You must’a been a busy beaver, Patrick. Writing all those opinions and inventing new pen names to go with!

  4. Jim Falk says:

    Thanks for this, Mr. Mitchell. The payment to Churchill County, NV was listed as a “consent item” on the agenda for the county commissioners’ meeting last week. It was not called out, so for the final public comment opportunity I rose to ask if this “pittance” in lieu of taxes was really fair considering what the county could be getting from private enterprises if the land was managed by the county rather than being mismanaged by federal agencies. I didn’t hear a satisfactory answer. One staff member asked, “but what can we do?’’ I replied, “you can start by making a lot of noise.” Jim Falk

  5. Apparently the meek will not inherit the earth.

  6. deleted says:

    Course Jesus never really said that it was going to be worth having by the time they get it.

  7. Steve says:

    Not in your world, Patrick.

    After all, YOU made a sham plea changing the meaning of the word “shall” to the meaning of the word “may”. Hoist by……


  8. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if the revenue from Burning Man payments for the Playa go into the Pilt formula for Pershing County?

    At a minimum, the BLM should divest itself from its surplus land that they themselves have identified as surplus to their needs. .

    The Federal Government owns 86% of the available land in Nevada. That is indecent.

    The Federal Government,through its various agencies is currently holding idle, obsolete and decaying properties across the United States that are no longer being used for their original purposes and represent a drain on Federal tax dollars to maintain and give no income to states, counties or cities. There is no rational reason to continue to hold these properties.

    It is time to get Uncle Sam out of the business of being a slum lord and being the largest landlord in Nevada. It is past time for a thoughtful discussion and program to erase the inequities suffered by Nevada whose citizens own less than 14% of their own State..

  9. Bill says:

    That last comment at 5:10 P.M. was mine. Just forgot to check to see if my name was posted.

  10. The feds lose 91 cents for every acre they control.

  11. deleted says:

    Bills comment goes double for all land held by the Koch Brothers and other wealthy far right wing republicans.

    We ought to, for every acre they would have the federal government divest, force them to give away (because that is what their minons in the force the federal government to give it’s property away would have this country do) two acres of their landholdings.

    I’m guessing most of the push for the government to divest itself of land would immediately disappear.

  12. Steve says:

    Patrick, you hate all things Koch then you hate PBS and specifically WGBH’s NOVA.

    You hypocrite.

  13. deleted says:

    “The Koch brothers’ paid ALEC to create several pieces of “model legislation” for Republican states to “demand that Congress extinguish title and government jurisdiction over public lands that are held in trust by the US federal government” such as ALEC’s “Eminent Domain Authority for Federal Lands Act.” In 2012 Utah’s Mormon governor, Bundy and ALEC supporter Gary Herbert signed “The Transfer of Public Lands Act” mandating the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management relinquish their domain to Utah Republicans no later than 2015 or the conservative Supreme Court will do it for them. It is important to remember that Cliven Bundy’s primary assertion was that the federal government had no right, or claim, to public land it had purchased from Mexico and why the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Republicans fell over themselves to support Bundy’s claim of “government overreach.”

  14. Steve says:

    “The Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, Fox News, and Republicans failed to properly vet their conservative hero for their crusade to seize federal land for oil and gas unfettered by environmental and endangered species protections. Bundy as racist destroyed their portrayal of a patriot fighting for his land rights, but his delusion as a Mormon prophet receiving revelations from god defines him as psychotic lunatic. One of Bundy’s earliest supporters, Nevada Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, said after addressing the crowd of crazies, “When you really look at this, it’s not about the environmental stuff — it’s a lot deeper than what’s coming out in the media.” She is right; it is about the Kochs, ALEC, and Republicans backing another group of maniacal conservatives as insane as the teabaggers and religious right.”

    And this goes to the Boston Magazine article I posted for you, Patrick. Conservatives are looking for real life examples and when one appears, it is not really vetted before being advertised. This is a direct result of decades of degrading and belittling by liberals seeking to silence all other voices.

    Notes: PoliticusUsa is a left wing biased news and opinion website. PoliticusUsa typically sources to credible media sources such as Reuters and are factual in reporting as we were unable to find any instances of failed fact checks. Though headlines tend to be somewhat sensational, the content of articles is evidence based with occasional use of loaded words that convey emotion. In short, PoliticusUsa is left biased through story choices and wording, but factual in reporting. (5/15/2016)

  15. […] Taxes checks really are. Perhaps their neighbors can tell them how those PILT checks amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, […]

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