This week, Congress introduced language for an omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year 2018.  The final text includes a wildfire funding deal that pairs a fire adjustment cap with forestry management reforms.  In addition, the bill includes language that will enable federal agencies to treat wildfire suppression similarly to other natural disasters and fully funds the Department of Interior’s wildfire funding budget at the 10-year average.  

The wildfire funding and forest management language was the result of months between Congress and stakeholders to address the growing cost of wildfires corroding the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) management funding through “fire borrowing.”  The language provides the USFS with reserve funds for wildfire suppression activities.  These reserve funds are intended to ensure the USFS will not draw on accounts meant for forest management and fire prevention activities after wildfire suppression accounts are exhausted.

The 2018 omnibus bill will fully fund the Federal PILT program at an estimated $530 million, a $65 million increase over 2017 funding levels.  The Federal PILT program provides funding for county governments to offset losses of property taxes due to a presence of nontaxable federal lands within the counties.  In addition, the bill includes language that will fully fund the SRS program for forested counties over the next two years.  The SRS language also amends Title III of the Secure Rural Schools Act to enable counties to use funds for law enforcement patrols and training and equipment related to emergency response.

The final version of the omnibus expands infrastructure spending by $10 billion.  The spending package will boost funding for existing infrastructure programs including a $2.55 billion increase for the federal highway program, and a $1 billion increase for so-called TIGER grants, which fund innovative road, transit, maritime and road projects.  In addition, the bill will include $600 million for rural broadband deployment.