Salazar introduces PILT bill in Congress
In his maiden speech before Congress last week, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., spoke up for rural America. Salazar, whose family has lived in the rural San Luis Valley for 150 years, introduced a bill that would set permanent funding for federal payment in lieu of taxes that fund programs from education to law enforcement. PILT, paid by federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to local communities, is especially critical, said Cody Wertz, communications director for Salazar. Salazar’s bill would set funding at $330 million annually. Last year funding for PILT was $230 million, although 50 bipartisan senators wrote President Bush asking for $255 million.”Right now this would set it as a permanent part of the budget. It would always be set at $330 million,” Wertz said.In 2004, Garfield County received $1.1 million from PILT, said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin. Sixty-seven percent of the county is federal land. Colorado’s 53 rural counties have more than 20.6 million federal acres. Martin said he worries full funding for PILT would jeopardize the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.”That’s a nice gesture, but full funding (for PILT) would take money away from that act. Our position in Garfield County is keep appropriations at the same level it is now,” he said.The rural schools act is a guarantee that counties where timber is harvested on federal lands have a permanent funding source, Martin said. Schools receive 25 percent of proceeds from timber sales on Forest Service lands. But timber sales have declined in recent years and Martin said he fears the program to fund rural schools will be cut.”We’re asking for full funding for both programs,” he said. “We want to see permanent funding (for PILT) but we don’t think the (federal) budget can withstand it.”Wertz disagreed that full funding for PILT would sacrifice the rural schools program.”I don’t know how it would take away (from it). It would be taken out of general treasury,” he said.Colorado Counties Inc., a lobbying group for county governments, has come out in support of the bill, according to its Web site.Colorado Counties Inc., a lobbying group for county governments, has come out in support of the bill, according to its Web site.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.