UPDATE: Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT1) met yesterday with House leadership, including Speaker John Boehner and budget committee chair Paul Ryan. Bishop says he's been assured funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program will be included in an upcoming appr0priations bill, though not in the combined spending bill the House will be voting on Wednesday.
Members of Utah’s Congressional delegation are trying to save federal funding for rural counties. Losing it could hurt some counties badly.
The Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT program is meant to help counties with large areas of federal land. Utah received more than $35 million last year. But this year it’s been left out of a key spending bill that could be finalized this week.
Tooele County got about $3.2 million from the program. Commissioner Bruce Clegg says that’s about 15% of the county budget. The county’s already lost revenue with the closure of the chemical weapons depot and a slowdown in business at EnergySolutions. Clegg says this could make things even worse.
“Well, without money," Clegg tells KUER, "we’d have to do something. We wouldn’t be able to absorb that kind of a loss without probably more layoffs and probably more taxes.”
Utah Republican Chris Stewart is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He says the state’s rural counties can’t do without the PILT funding.
Stewart says “Really, what choice do they have when so much of their land is controlled by the federal government? This is the only option. And it’s the minimally fair thing we could do for them. We’re giving them just a small portion of what they would be able to collect in taxes as it is already. So yeah, this is a battle. We’ll plant our flag on this one, there’s no doubt.”
If lawmakers can’t fund the program in this spending bill, Stewart says he and other supporters will try to add it to the farm bill or another piece of legislation.