Editorial: PILT funding not too late but for far too little

Congress extended the funding for PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) for one more year by adding a tiny $411 million drop to the $1 trillion farm bill bucket.

The farm bill passed easily in the House and Senate and President Obama is expected to sign it. PILT money has been distributed since 1976 to counties that have large tracts of non-taxed federal land to help fund education and public safety, which are usually supported by property taxes.

County officials and Nevada’s congressional delegation are saying there needs to be a long-term solution so the counties can properly plan their budgets and not have to hope every year that Congress will deign to do the right thing. Nevada’s share of PILT is expected to be about $23 million this year, approximately the same as in 2013.

Rather than having to go hat in hand to Congress every year, the preferable solution is to deed over much of those federal public lands from the Interior Department to the states and counties and eventually private owners, who would pay property taxes. The federal government “owns” more than 87 percent of Nevada’s land — the highest percentage of any state.

The sad fact is: The states and counties are getting the short end of the stick with PILT, because the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. So that’s $35 flowing into Washington for every $1 sent back in the form of PILT.

At that ratio, Nevada should be getting $800 million instead of merely $23 million.
The 2013 Legislature passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 227, which created a Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada. The 17-member Task Force has been meeting regularly and is supposed to report its findings and recommendations this September. Nevada is the fifth Western state currently taking such action.

Actually, the citizens of Nevada voted to do the same thing back in 1996, but that vote has been totally ignored by Congress and the courts and largely forgotten. No attorney general, including Sandoval, has asked the courts to stand up for the will of the voters.

Nevada is short-changed coming and going by Washington. PILT money amounts to about $8.88 per Nevadan. But the PILT for Utah is $13 per capita, New Mexico’s $17, Idaho’s $17, Montana’s $26 and Alaska’s $38.
Additionally, the average Nevada federal tax burden amounts to about $9,000 per capita. According to the Tax Foundation, Nevada receives only $5,889 in federal allotments, the lowest in the nation, and at 65 cents returned for every dollar sent to D.C., the second lowest ratio in the nation, behind only New Jersey.
So, we each send $9,000 every year to Washington and are supposed to be thankful and appreciative when Washington writes each of us a check for $9 in the form of PILT?

Nevada must take control of more than a mere 13 percent of the land within its boundaries to truly be considered a sovereign state instead of a sharecropping colony cowering in fear of the royal gamekeeper. — TM

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