February 12, 2015

Wyden, Crapo Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Renew Safety Net for Rural Counties

Bill Would Extend Secure Rural Schools Program for Three Years, Restore PILT to Mandatory Funding

Washington, D.C.— Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, today introduced a bipartisan bill to renew the Secure Rural Schools program, which supports schools, law-enforcement and roads in more than 700 rural counties across the country.

“County payments are a lifeline for cash-strapped rural communities that are already facing shortfalls to pave roads, keep teachers in schools and firefighters on call,” Wyden said. “This bipartisan bill keeps up the commitment the government made to support rural counties in Oregon and across the country. I am glad to once again partner with Senator Crapo to get this vital legislation across the finish line.”

“This bill renews the rightful federal partnership to assist with funding schools, road and other local services in lieu of paying property taxes,” Crapo said.  “This bill renews county payments.  Full, mandatory funding for Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) expired in 2013, and the program now relies on yearly appropriations, creating uncertainty for counties burdened with large federally-managed, untaxable lands in their jurisdictions. Our bill would keep the promise made to local governments in 1976 that the government would mitigate for the lost tax revenue by restoring mandatory funding status to PILT.”

The bill would extend the program for three years at 2011 funding levels, rolling back years of declining payments. It would provide a total of roughly $360 million annually for more than 700 counties across the U.S. It would also restore mandatory funding of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which compensates counties that contain federal lands.

Wyden and Crapo committed to extend this lifeline in a fiscally responsible way, including fully offsetting the bill’s cost to ensure it has no impact on the deficit.

The program, which is currently expired, provided about $107 million to Oregon counties last year. The Bureau and Land Management announced yesterday that many Oregon counties face payment cuts of 50 percent or more since SRS expired. The Forest Service announced similar payment cuts last month.

Since Wyden and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, co-authored the program in 2000, county timber payments have brought more than $2.8 billion to 33 of Oregon’s 36 counties.