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Washington, D.C. – Local and county governments are currently finalizing their budgets for the coming year. Without reauthorization of county payments legislation included in the Senate version of the surface transportation bill now being considered by members from both houses in the conference committee, many rural counties in Oregon and nationwide could be forced to lay off teachers, road crews, police officers and other county employees.
In an effort to ensure that a one-year extension to the important program, as well as another year of full funding for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, remains in the surface transportation bill being considered by the conference committee, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) led a bipartisan group of more than 25 senators in a letter to the Senate conferees calling on them to fight to keep the program in legislation.
When the surface transportation bill was passed by the Senate last month, the county payments (known officially as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act) and PILT amendment was agreed to by an overwhelming 82-16 vote. A similar provision, however, was not included in the House version of the bill.
“Without this funding, counties’ budgets are facing drastic cuts, and potential insolvency;” the senators wrote in the letter, “and this legislation provides the last opportunity to pass an extension before layoffs take place and are made permanent for road crews, teachers, and other county workers across rural America.”
Authored by Wyden, originally passed in 2000 and reauthorized in both 2007 and 2008, the county payments program as well as the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program reflect the promise made by the federal government to provide financial assistance to counties that have large amounts of federally-owned land. For those counties, that land cannot be used as an economic asset and represents losses to potential property tax revenue. County payments and PILT are a lifeline to rural counties and failure to reauthorize could result in 11,000 job losses, $1.37 billion in lost business revenue and $1.88 billion in lost tax receipts next year.