February 26, 2015

Udall, Heinrich Champion Plan to Permanently Fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program

Rural New Mexico communities rely on PILT & Secure Rural Schools to fund critical local government services

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that they have joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation that will ensure rural New Mexico communities continue to get the services they need by restoring mandatory funding to the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. Last year, all but one of New Mexico's counties received funding through the PILT program — a total of $37 million. The bill would also roll back cuts to Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and extend the program for three years.

PILT provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes because of nontaxable federal land within their boundaries. These resources are critical to rural counties across the country, which use the funding to provide essential services to residents, including police, fire protection, and emergency response. SRS provides funding for similar services to rural counties near national forests.

After years of funding PILT inconsistently, Congress in 2008 fully and automatically funded PILT for five years. In a 2012 transportation bill, full funding was extended for another year, leaving the future beyond 2013 uncertain. Udall and Heinrich successfully pushed for PILT funding to be included in the 2014 Farm Bill and last December's "omnibus" appropriations bill to fund the government through September 2015, but continue to advocate for steady, full funding.

The bill announced today would restore mandatory funding for PILT, exempting PILT payments from the uncertainty of the yearly budget process.

"Rural New Mexico communities depend on PILT to fund local fire departments, public schools, road maintenance and more. But budget uncertainly over the past few years has left many communities in limbo," Udall said. "New Mexico communities deserve better than 11th-hour dealmaking with something so important to local budgets. Our communities received more than $37 million through PILT last year alone, and we need to know this funding will be secure well into the future."

"Long-term, predictable funding is tremendously important to counties across New Mexico," Heinrich said. "Secure Rural Schools and PILT help counties avoid budget shortfalls and maintain the economic strength of our communities who rely on these funds for infrastructure maintenance, fire management, forest health projects, and other critical local services. We must fulfill our obligation to our local communities and give them the resources they need to succeed — this bill is a step in the right direction."