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September 23, 2014

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Guinn, other governors call for full tax funds

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Kenny Guinn and 12 other governors want full funding of the federal payment-in-lieu of tax program to help their states get the money needed for basic programs.

The program, known as PILT, gives money to counties and local governments to make up for lost tax revenue they cannot collect on federal lands owned by the Interior Department. But like other federal programs, the money must be allocated and approved by Congress each year

Congress appropriated $227.5 million for the program for 2004, about a 3 percent increase from 2003, but still lower than the $361 million authorized, according to the governors.

"The gap between authorizied and appropriated levels continues to cause significant difficulties for those county and local governments that have federal lands within their boundaries," the governors, all members of the Western Governors Association, wrote Wednesday in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget. "The payments are desperately needed to support such vital services as firefighting, schools, police services, transportation infrastructure and health care in rural areas."

Nevada has just under 56.8 million acres of federal land, divided among the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and National Wildlife Refuges, that are eligible for PILT payments, according to BLM data.

Nevada's 17 counties received $13.1 million through the program in July, marking a increase from the $11.5 million received in 2002.

Clark County received $1.81 million in June for the 4.8 million acres of land eligible for the program, 3 million of which belong to BLM.

This marks just a small portion of the county's $858 million general fund budget, according to the county's treasurer office.

Chris Kearney, deputy Interior assistant secretary for policy and international affairs, said the administration strongly opposed the bill to permanently fund PILT.

"We support protections for local government against the loss of property tax revenue when private lands are acquired by a federal agency," Kearney said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the issue in September. "However, the administration is strongly opposed to creating a new mandatory spending category to fund the PILT program because it would force the federal government either to raise taxes of cut into other programs that are integral to the president's budget and important to the American public."

Nevada Sens. Harry Reid, a Democrat and John Ensign, a Republican, have co-sponsored a bill still pending in the Senate that would change the formulas for PILT funding.

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