County commissioners from across the West, including about a dozen from Idaho, are in Washington, D.C., this week to ask members of Congress to fund a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes.
“PILT,” as it’s known, gives money to counties that have lots of non-taxable federal lands. The counties put these dollars toward vital local services.
Don Hall, a county commissioner from Twin Falls, is one of the local officials in D.C. this week.
Several counties in Idaho, he says, rely on PILT funds for a significant portion of their budgets. For instance, he says nearby Lincoln County uses the money for around 25% of its yearly budget.
“Can you imagine trying to budget your police services, your ambulance services, all the services the county is involved in and not knowing if 25% of your revenue is coming in?” he says.
The county leaders, including Hall, are asking federal legislators for a long-term funding solution for PILT. Each year, counties have to wait for Congress to allocate money to this program, which pays for things like police and fire services, and road maintenance.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, says he wants to unveil a plan to give the funding some more reliability.
“In the next few days I will introduce a 10-year re-authorization of PILT so we will have again some measure of predictability,” he said Wednesday.
Hall says he expects the Idaho congressional delegation to support, if not co-sponsor, a bill like this.
More than 60% of Idaho’s land is federally-owned. And this year, the state received more than $32 million from PILT.
County comissioners are also advocating for rural school funding this week under the Secure Rural Schools program. The U.S. senators from Idaho and Oregon introduced legislation in May to set up an endowment for rural counties that had experienced losses from a decline in timber harvest.
Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio