Bipartisan Bingaman-Murkowski Bill
To Provide Millions for Rural Schools and Counties
U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 1692, to extend the life of two initiatives that direct millions of dollars in payments to support local employment in rural schools, county maintenance programs, forest management and other critical county programs.
As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman worked with the committee’s Ranking Republican, Lisa Murkowski, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and others for months to negotiate an agreement. The plan extends for five years the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act – a program that supports counties that rely economically on national forest lands. The proposal also fully-funds the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program for an additional five years. PILT compensates counties for Federal land that cannot be a source of property taxes.
Sen. Bingaman: “Over the past few years, Secure Rural Schools and PILT have been lifelines for financially-strapped rural counties and the thousands of Americans they employ and contract with. While we all have different perspectives on the county payments programs, we recognize how critical they are to our communities and the necessity of bringing together a broad, bipartisan coalition to support this plan if we are to have any chance of successfully securing funding.”
Sen. Murkowski: “Until Congress can return federal land management to a system where our forests generate the jobs and economic activity they once did, Secure Rural Schools provides crucial funding to keep whole some of our most remote communities. I support this legislation as a temporary fix, fully aware that the only permanent solution is for the Forest Service to reinstate regular timber sales to provide some economic benefit to the communities within the national forest system.
“The PILT program was put in place to compensate communities with federal lands within their jurisdictions for lost tax revenue. Since I don’t expect Congress to grant local municipalities the right to tax federal lands, I see no reason why we should not continue funding this program for the foreseeable future.”
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program supports local public schools, funds county road improvement and maintenance projects, creates jobs conducting forest restoration and improvement projects in and around National Forests, and supports local initiatives to reduce the risk from wildfires. Bingaman, Murkowski, Wyden and other committee members led a successful bipartisan effort in 2008 to fund the program through fiscal year 2011, which expired at the end of September. The 2008 reauthorization provided more than $1.75 billion to counties across the country, including more than $250 million in collaborative forest and watershed restoration, wildfire risk reduction, and other community forestry programs. Under S. 1692, payments to counties would be gradually reduced at a rate of 5 percent each year for the next five years.
The plan also ensures that PILT does not have to be subjected to the annual appropriations process – a process that for years underfunded the program. As part of the 2008 effort, PILT was guaranteed full-funding through the current fiscal year.
The bipartisan group leading the effort, which also includes Baucus, Crapo, Wyden, Risch, Reid, Cochran, Tester, Blunt, Feinstein, Heller, Tom Udall, Boxer, Cantwell, Murray, Bennet, Merkley, Sanders, Tim Johnson, Begich, McCaskill, Mark Udall, Franken and Udall, has agreed to work to find offsets to ensure that the plan will not increase the Federal deficit.
# # #