This article was on the front page of the Denver Post. Again, I think it’s interesting what having regional newspapers means to what kind of coverage there is of regional issues. But, of course, all public lands are national issues. But what would a newspaper reader in San Francisco or New York or DC see in their paper about public lands compared to the Denver or Salt Lake or Boise or Missoula paper? Something to think about as the newspaper industry deconstructs..
Anyway, below is an excerpt. Note that D’s and R’s are together on this..and you don’t need lack of timber receipts for the issue to be a problem.
WASHINGTON — Colorado’s rural, mountainous counties that boast some of the most picturesque , yet isolated, scenery in the nation face the prospect of receiving $31.9 million fewer federal dollars this year.
The money was left out of last week’s budget deal approved by Congress and supported by President Barack Obama.
Known as “Payments in Lieu of Taxes,” or PILT, the federal payments backfill budgets in places such as Mesa County, which has a lot of federal land that doesn’t generate any property taxes. The dynamic puts Mesa at a disadvantage compared with, say, Denver County, whose dense population generates county dollars to take care of infrastructure, emergency services and roads.
Colorado is among the five biggest recipients of federal PILT dollars. Other large recipients include Utah, Wyoming and Montana.
“If any other property taxpayer in the country decided that ‘Money was too tight, I’m in a deficit situation and I’m just going to quit paying my property taxes,’ they’d find their property on the auction block,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca. “Yet the federal government exempts themselves from that.”
PILT, like hundreds of other line items in the voluminous federal budget, has a history of being tucked into various funding measures over the years.
Created in the 1970s, it was funded through the regular appropriations process on Capitol Hill until 2008. Then it was stuck in the Troubled Asset Relief Program bill for five years. Last year, it was tucked in transportation funding.
Last week’s budget, passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, failed to include PILT funding.
“I’m very disturbed … that the decision was made to zero it out,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican whose 3rd District gets more of these federal dollars than anywhere else in Colorado and who voted against the budget package. “We’re concerned on the impact primarily on our communities. … This is a real challenge. When a hiker gets lost on federal land, the federal government doesn’t help — it’s going to be the local sheriff.”
The federal government owns roughly 75 percent of Mesa County’s land. The county’s 146,000 denizens live on the remaining fourth, mostly in Grand Junction and Fruita.
Yet Acquafresca points out that county officials are in charge of all the land — including road access, emergency service and law enforcement.
The county received $3.12 million last year from the federal government. The money accounts for about 5 percent of the county’s overall budget. Mesa gets more of the federal money than any other county in Colorado.
Acquafresca and his commissioner colleagues have budgeted this year for the federal dollars and says he doesn’t know what they’ll do if the money doesn’t come through in June.
“We don’t provide frivolous services,” he said. “Everything we do in this community is vital.”
Tipton, who is in Colorado this week on a congressional recess with the other members, said GOP leadership assured him they would try to get PILT funding restored in the Farm Bill.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, who was on the Western Slope this week hearing from county commissioners on the matter, is making the same push from his position on the Farm Bill conference committee.
“It’s very, very important to the operating budgets to counties all over Colorado, vitally important to first responders and schools. That’s the message I heard loud and clear,” Bennet said.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said the $607,959 her county received last year helped fund rescue efforts and emergency services in the bountiful, heavily traversed mountains near Durango.
You can check out the comments too, but some of them devolve pretty quickly to partisan name-calling (another one says that search and rescue is reimbursed and not really an issue).