Letter to the Editor: Udall speaks on PILT, state priorities

Dear Editor:
In case you missed it, I wrote an op-ed piece for Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today, discussing the importance of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program to Colorado communities and the need to support the program.
I welcomed the short-term extension of the program included in the 2014 Farm Bill and urged the passage of his bipartisan bill to permanently fund and reauthorize the program.
“Colorado counties need a long-term solution to protect them from the perennial uncertainty of whether congressional gridlock will force them to cut essential services such as education, road repair and public safety,” I wrote. “We must do better, which is why I am proud to lead the bipartisan effort to permanently reauthorize and fund the PILT program. … The time for Congress to act is now, and I will keep fighting with Coloradans by my side to ensure rural communities and our high quality of life are not the victims of Washington-style gridlock and partisanship.”
The PILT program issues federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their jurisdictions. The program’s payments compensate these communities for their support and for foregoing tax revenues from these federal lands. The formula used to calculate payments is based on population, receipt sharing payments and the amount of federal land within an affected county.
I am a strong supporter of the role PILT payments play in supporting rural Colorado communities. I also successfully urged the U.S. Department of the Interior last year to restore mineral leasing revenues to Colorado communities, which often depend on those funds to help run local governments and schools in addition to supporting other critical community services
Northwest Colorado communities, in particular, count on PILT funds to support vital services. In 2013 alone: Rio Blanco County received more than $497,000 for the nearly 1.5 million acres of federal land within its boundaries; Moffat County received more than $554,000 for the nearly 1.7 million acres of federal land within its boundaries; Routt County received more than $1.47 million for the more than 661,000 acres of federal land within its boundaries; and Jackson County received more than $170,000 in funding for the more than 513,000 acres of federal land within its boundaries.
The full $32 million that Colorado counties received under the PILT program last year may sound like small change in Washington, D.C., but our local communities know just how important this support is to keeping teachers in schools and plows on the roads. In most counties across Colorado, these payments constitute significant portions of their budgets.
Despite this, Congress last year threatened to pull out the rug from under Colorado communities and end its support for the PILT program. Thanks to the voices of county leaders throughout Colorado who stood with me in support of the PILT program, I was able to successfully include a one-year extension of the PILT program in the bipartisan and deficit-reducing farm bill.
Although this was a significant win for Coloradans across the Centennial State, we cannot rest on our laurels until next year. More importantly, we cannot leave our rural counties at the mercy of the annual congressional budget process, which could leave them high and dry.
Colorado counties need a long-term solution to protect them from the perennial uncertainty of whether congressional gridlock will force them to cut essential services such as education, road repair and public safety. We must do better, which is why I am proud to lead the bipartisan effort to permanently reauthorize and fund the PILT program.
After years of work to bridge the partisan divide, I am glad to say that support for the PILT program no longer is limited to lawmakers from rural and Western states. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that Congress needs to step up to the plate and fulfill our end of the bargain so our local partners can support the police, firefighters, schools, and other essential public services Coloradans and Americans across the West count on.
The time for Congress to act is now, and I will keep fighting with Coloradans by my side to ensure rural communities and our high quality of life are not the victims of Washington-style gridlock and partisanship.
Sen. Mark Udall
Colorado’s senior U.S. Senator
Washington, D.C.