Editorial: Forget PILT checks, transfer federal land to Nevada

It’s that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their 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) — and certain politicians pound their chests and boast of their generosity.

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.

In a recent press release the Interior Department announced it is doling out $552.8 million in PILT payments this year. Of that, Nevada counties are slated to net almost $27 million.

“Given that 85 percent of Nevada’s lands are managed by the federal government, the PILT program makes it possible for communities in Nevada to maintain critical public services across large swaths of federal land,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller in a statement. “That is why I welcome the Department of the Interior’s announcement that Nevada will receive nearly $27 million in PILT payments, and increase of more than $800,000 from last year. This additional funding will help ensure that Nevada’s rural communities can continue to provide public services such as law enforcement and road maintenance. As a strong supporter of the PILT program, I thank Secretary (Ryan) Zinke for recognizing my state’s needs and reaffirming his commitment to Nevada’s rural communities.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also chimed in with a nearly verbatim crowing, “I applaud the Department of Interior for awarding nearly $27 million to our rural counties through the PILT program — an increase of $800,000 from last year. These funds are vital to local governments to provide essential services and enable local leaders to invest in development projects.”

Secretary Zinke put out a statement noting his Montana roots and saying, “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.”

What they didn’t say is that this year’s PILT payments increased by 19 percent over the previous year’s handouts, but Nevada’s check only increased by 3 percent, and the payments to four counties — Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka and Lander — actually decreased.

Nor did they make note of the fact the Interior Department alone collects more than $9.6 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on public lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting — a portion of which is shared with states and counties — meaning the PILT payments amount to only 5.7 percent of that revenue. And that doesn’t take into account revenue generated by Agriculture Department federal land holdings.

Also, Nevada got short shrift when compared to most nearby states. While Utah also saw PILT checks increase by a meager 3 percent, California’s payments went up 25 percent, Arizona’s 11 percent, Idaho’s 20 percent, New Mexico’s 11 percent and Oregon’s a whopping 88 percent.

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 48 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 $1.90 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting $1.24 an acre.

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

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

Transferring federal land to local control is a much better solution than federal handouts subject to the whims of the current administration and Congress.

A version of this editorial appeared this 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.

 

Editorial: Feds hand counties a tiny fraction of public land revenue

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.

 

PILT patch still doesn’t add up

The Las Vegas newspaper on Wednesday afternoon reported online that Gov. Brian Sandoval had announced that Nevada counties will receive a combined $1.9 million (actually $1.98 million) more in payment in lieu of taxes or PILT. This would bring this year’s total to about $25 million.

“PILT payments provide local governments with the necessary funds to pay for critical infrastructure needs in cities and towns across Nevada,” the paper quoted Sandoval’s statement as saying. “Additionally it allows local leaders to prepare to meet the demands of our growing communities.”

Brian Sandoval (R-J photo)

Sandoval’s statement is also posted online. But for some reason the newspaper did not print its online story.

Neither the governor’s statement, nor the newspaper account bothered to point out that even with the additional money — approved in the recent budget talks — the PILT payments are still less than was doled out in 2014, when the state got $25.4 million in PILT. With the added funds Nevada will get a total of $25.24 million this year.

“I would like to thank the members of our Congressional delegation for their hard work in securing this additional money. I would also like to recognize the Department of the Interior for fulfilling its obligation to compensate local communities for the land owned by the federal government in Nevada,” Sandoval’s online statement says.

Yes, thanks a lot. Before the additional $2 million, Nevada’s powerful minority leader of the Senate brought home the bacon for Nevada counties by providing 41 cents per acre in PILT, while California raked in 96 cents per acre, Arizona got $1.13, New Mexico fetched $1.54 and Utah’s share was $1.05.

And pay no attention to the fact the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting, before sending the states a paltry $439 million.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good pat on the back.

The first online comment beneath the R-J story was from a perceptive Mark Rothbard, who wrote:

“To be clear, the federal government does not earn money. It steals money from the millions of individuals in each of the states. It cannot compensate. It can only rebate portions of what it stole. This is exactly the same as a mugger stealing your wallet and handing you back a five dollar bill out of the thousands of dollars in the wallet.”

Editorial: Nevada should control its land and not settle for paltry alms

Esmeralda County gets only 6 cents per acre in PILT money.

The silence is deafening.

Because so much of the West in general and Nevada in particular is controlled by the federal government and cannot be taxed, Congress four decades ago came up with a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Each year about this time the U.S. government writes checks to counties to compensation for lost tax revenue.

A year ago Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid issued a press release bragging about all the money Nevada was getting, pointing out that “Nevada’s PILT payments rose roughly $2.1 million from $23.3 million to $25.4 million.”

“PILT funding has a remarkable impact for Nevada counties,” said Reid a year ago. “Over 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, making it essential that Nevada receive its fair share. These funds support rural communities across Nevada in funding high-quality education, law enforcement, and healthcare systems. I have worked hard to make sure that these crucial programs are fully-funded, and I am grateful that Congress was able to extend these provisions this year. I will work to ensure PILT is again funded for this upcoming fiscal year.”

This year no press release. Perhaps that’s because the Nevada checks this year amount to only $23.26 million, less than two years ago. Nationally PILT payouts are off by $32 million, down to $405 million from $437 million a year ago.

In a press release Interior Secretary Sally Jewell proclaimed, “PILT payments are critical for maintaining essential public services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.”

The very next paragraph of the press release, without a hint of awareness of its miserly scope, reports that the “Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting,” and shares some royalties with the states.

So, the agency collects $14 billion from land that could well be held by the states, counties or private citizens and then magnanimously doles out less than 3 percent in PILT.

The state Legislature this year passed a bill urging Congress to turn over some of the federal land to the state.

A report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM 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. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — nearly half the annual general fund budget.

Earlier this year Rep. Mark Amodei introduced H.R.1484 — Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where its co-sponsor, Rep. Cresent Hardy, sits. The bill 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.

In addition to being paltry the PILT checks are high inequitable, varying wildly in payment per acre from state to state and county to county.

Remember, Reid said it was “essential that Nevada receive its fair share.”

While Nevada will get 41 cents per acre this year, California this year will rake in 96 cents per acre, Arizona gets $1.13, New Mexico fetches $1.54 and Utah’s share is $1.05.

The calculations also account for population, which probably explains why tiny Esmeralda County here in Nevada nets 6 cents an acre, while Lyon gets $2.20 per acre and Washoe $1.07. Other county payments will be: White Pine, 41 cents; Elko 40 cents; Eureka, 15 cents; Lincoln, 12 cents; Lander, 26 cents; Mineral, 33 cents.

Reid has had time to send out press releases praising the Supreme Court for upholding ObamaCare and overturning anti-gay marriage laws and praising Homeland Defense for not detaining illegal alien families, but not PILT.

We urge our congressional delegation to move forward with legislation to turn federal land over to Nevada so the state taxpayers can profit from it instead of settling for paltry handouts.

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.

PILT: Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, Harry

Dear Nevada counties: The checks are in the mail.

Sen. Harry Reid issued a press release saying Nevada counties are to receive more than $25 million in federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the Department of the Interior. That’s more than $2 million more than the previous year.

PILT has been around since 1976 as means of making up for all the property taxes counties with huge tracts of federally controlled land can’t collect. But the funding has to be approved each year. PILT was left out of this year’s budget was included in the Farm Bill.

Reid boasted:

“PILT funding has a remarkable impact for Nevada counties. Over 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, making it essential that Nevada receive its fair share. These funds support rural communities across Nevada in funding high-quality education, law enforcement, and healthcare systems. I have worked hard to make sure that these crucial programs are fully-funded, and I am grateful that Congress was able to extend these provisions this year. I will work to ensure PILT is again funded for this upcoming fiscal year.”

What the senator did not vow to do was give the states more of that land.

A preliminary draft report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM 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.

The draft report said the state could net $114 million by taking over 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — about half the current annual general fund budget.

Interior’s total payout to all the states amounted to $437 million. But as Harry Reid noted in 2013,  “The Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.”

Interior rakes in $14 billion from land that should belong to the states and generously doles out a paltry $437 million.

Harry doles out nickels on the dollar.

But we should all be thankful the powerful majority leader of the Senate is bringing home the bacon for Nevada counties, which collectively will get 45 cents an acre, while neighboring Idaho gets only 88 cents and acre, Arizona gets $1.23, California $1.03, Utah $1.15, New Mexico $1.68 and the president’s home of Hawaii gets $2.58 per acre.

PILT money finds its way into compromise farm bill

Gannett’s Washington bureau is reporting that the new farm bill cobbled together today does in fact contain funding for PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes,) just as Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei and other Western congressmen were promised earlier when the funding was left out of the omnibus spending bill.

The $400 million set aside for this fiscal year is approximately the same as was paid out in 2013 to counties with large tracts of federal public lands not subject to property taxes. The distribution formula has remained largely the same for several years, meaning Nevada counties get about $23 million, considerably less per acre and per capita than other Western states.

Votes in the House and Senate on the compromise bill are expected in the coming weeks.

According to The Hill, the bill also includes nearly $1 trillion in funding for agriculture subsidies, crop insurance and food stamps for 10 years. It would reduce food stamp funding by about $8 billion, much less than what many Republicans wanted.

Rep. Steven Horsford, who represents the Southern portion of rural Nevada, has noted that a a short-term extension to PILT, which expires in June, was being worked out. “However, Nevadans need a long-term solution,” he said.

Newspaper column: PILT funding left out of spending bill, what now?

PILT is not Western welfare, protests Rep. Mark Amodei.

PILT is a federal obligation, insists Sen. Dean Heller.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes is how Congress, since 1976, has attempted to provide relief to counties with large tracts of non-taxable federal land so they can provide police and fire protection, education and other public services, as noted in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

RJ Matson of Roll Call 2007

In the final hours this past week of hammering out a $1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government through September, Western congressmen discovered there was no money for PILT, which can amount to more than 10 percent of the budgets of some rural counties. For Nevada in 2013 payments totaled $23 million or 40 cents an acre.

“It was news to most of us that it wasn’t in the bill. …” explained Amodei.

Heller was the only member of the Nevada delegation to vote against the omnibus bill, at least partly because it lacked PILT funding.

Amodei explained that part of the problem is that in 2009 PILT came out of the Interior Department’s budget and went into TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).

“That effort was led by none other than our pal Senator Harry Reid. So it funded it for five years in TARP but it wasn’t in the Interior bill anymore. So when we all started screaming formally, it was like, well, it hasn’t been in there,” Amodei recounted.

Amodei said Speaker John Boehner, in front of 30 Western House members, promised PILT would be funded, probably in the farm bill.

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district covers the rest of rural Nevada and part of Clark County, also pledged to restore PILT funding. “PILT is critical to rural counties in my district, and it makes up a significant portion of many budgets for traditionally underserved communities,” he said. 

Amodei also cautioned that there still is no assurance PILT will be funded at 100 percent.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko site.