Editorial: PILT funding still doesn’t add up

Dear Nevada counties: The checks are in the mail. Signed: Harry Reid.

Sen. Harry Reid has issued a press release saying Nevada counties are to receive more than $25 million in federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the Department of the Interior. That’s $2 million more than the previous year.

PILT has been around since 1976 as a means of making up for all the property taxes counties with huge tracts of federally controlled land can’t collect. But the funding has to be approved each year. PILT was left out of this year’s budget but was quickly included in the Farm Bill when the oversight was discovered by Western lawmakers.

Reid boasted: “PILT funding has a remarkable impact for Nevada counties. Over 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, making it essential that Nevada receive its fair share. These funds support rural communities across Nevada in funding high-quality education, law enforcement, and healthcare systems. I have worked hard to make sure that these crucial programs are fully-funded, and I am grateful that Congress was able to extend these provisions this year. I will work to ensure PILT is again funded for this upcoming fiscal year.”

What the senator did not vow to do was give the states more of that land for their own economic development.

A preliminary draft report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls, while the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre.

The draft report said the state could net $114 million a year by taking over just 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — about half the current annual general fund budget.

Interior’s total payout to all the states amounted to $437 million. But, as Reid noted in 2013, 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.

Interior rakes in $14 billion from land that should belong to the states and generously doles out a paltry $437 million.

But we should all be thankful the powerful majority leader of the Senate is bringing home the bacon for Nevada counties, which collectively will get 45 cents an acre, while neighboring Idaho gets only 88 cents and acre, Arizona gets $1.23, California $1.03, Utah $1.15, New Mexico $1.68 and the president’s home of Hawaii gets $2.58 per acre.

Even within the state, the checks vary wildly. Storey County is getting $2.64 per acre and has the least amount of federal land of any county. By comparison, Elko is getting 44 cents per acre, Eureka 16 cents, Lincoln 14 cents, Mineral 37 cents and White Pine 23 cents.

Harry drops nickels in our tin cups and expects us to thank him.

The 2013 Legislature passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval ceremoniously signed Assembly Bill 227, which created that Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada.

The 17-member Task Force is supposed to report its findings and recommendations by Sept. 1, 2014, to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands “in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015.”

Nevada is the fifth Western state currently taking such action. (The citizens of Nevada voted to takeover the federal lands in 1996, but that vote has been totally ignored and largely forgotten.)

It is past time for Nevada and the Western states to take control of lands currently controlled by far off federal bureaucrats who fiddle while the West burns. — TM

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