In 2000, Congress enacted the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) to provide funding for rural counties and school districts to replace revenue from dwindling forest receipts due to a national decline in timber harvesting. When first enacted, SRS provided nearly $60 million annually to California’s forested counties, with half of the funding allocated to school districts, and half of the funding allocated to counties for county roads. SRS initially expired in 2006, and has been reauthorized multiple times since first enacted. Each reauthorization has included program funding reductions.
In October 1976, Congress enacted the Federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes Act (PILT) to provide federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property tax revenues due to nontaxable federal lands within local governments' boundaries. Counties containing National Forests, National Parks, lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, lands dedicated to the use of federal water, National Wildlife Reserves, and inactive or semi-active Army installations are eligible for Federal PILT payments. Federal PILT helps local governments provide firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.
In April 2015, Congress enacted H.R. 2, commonly referred to as the “Doc Fix.” The primary purpose of the “Doc Fix” was to restructure Medicare reimbursements; however, attached to the measure were provisions which provided a two-year extension of SRS. The SRS extension provided California counties and schools nearly $27.3 million in 2014, and $25.9 million in 2015. To date, Congress has not reauthorized SRS for 2016 or 2017. As such, federal land payments have been made to forested counties under the “25% Receipts Rule” which provides a fraction of the monies counties would have received had another SRS reauthorization been made. A number of bills have been put forth in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to reauthorize SRS; however, none have secured passage.
It is expected that the House of Representatives will adopt a comprehensive forestry reform measure in 2017 that may provide a potential replacement to SRS.
Earlier this year, Congress approved a $465 million appropriation for 2017 Federal PILT payments, representing a slight increase from 2016. The Department of the Interior issued the 2017 Federal PILT payments to counties in June 2017. Despite this good news, there are concerns with the Trump Administration’s proposed $397 million 2018 Federal PILT payments – a significant decrease. Despite the reduction, the House of Representatives has adopted an initial Interior Appropriations measure to fund Federal PILT at the $465 million level.
RCRC will continue to advocate before federal policy makers for full funding of the Federal PILT program at the $465 million level as well as a multi-year reauthorization. RCRC and its federal partners will urge Congress to take action to reauthorize the program before September 30, 2017, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year.
RCRC supports the long-term reauthorization and full funding of the SRS and Federal PILT programs. SRS and Federal PILT funding is vital for the nation's forested counties to continue providing critical programs and services to rural communities.
Staff: Paul A. Smith