McInnis-built PILT bill clears committee |

McInnis-built PILT bill clears committee

A bill funded by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis to fully reimburse counties for tax-exempt federal lands cleared the House Resources Committee Thursday.

The payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) program is designed to make up for property taxes lost due to the presence of federal lands in the counties.

The bill is being enthusiastically received by area county officials, including those from Garfield County.

“I know that it’s going to have probably a pretty significant impact” on county finances if it passes, said Jesse Smith, assistant Garfield County administrator.

A preliminary estimate is that it would generate more than a half million dollars more for Garfield County than it received this year.

According to McInnis, Congress has been shortchanging counties in that program, and in a Refuge Revenue Sharing Program for counties with national wildlife refuges.

His bill would fully fund those programs for the first time in years, based on a formula used to set the ideal reimbursement amount. In some years, the federal government has funded less than called for under the formula.

The bill now goes for consideration on the House floor.

PILT payments are made annually for tax-exempt federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and for federal water projects and some military installations.

In 2001, the PILT program paid $1.1 million to Garfield County. This year, the payment fell to $810,000.

Smith said he’s been told by state officials that amount is 60 percent of what the county would receive under the formula. That means full funding would bring it $1.35 million.

Since PILT’s inception in 1976, it has rarely been fully funded, according to McInnis. In 1994 Congress attempted to address this concern by increasing the program’s authorization levels. However, Congress’ appropriations to PILT have failed to meet those authorization levels in the years since, a situation that McInnis’ bill sets out to change.

“Nowhere is PILT more important than it is to us in rural Colorado,” McInnis said. “As it stands now, our locally elected officials are in a financial straitjacket, and only Congress can provide them the relief they need.”

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