House approves PILT funding

WASHINGTON — A sweeping farm bill set for final votes in Congress next week rescues the federal program that compensates rural counties for federal lands they can’t tax.

The Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT, distributed $400 million last year to local governments, including to Nye County, to pay for police and fire protections and for road maintenance. Federal property otherwise cannot be taxed to pay for services.

More than three-quarters of the money in PILT goes to the 12 Western states. Nevada, which has 56 million acres of federal land, collected $23 million last year. Nye County received $2.8 million.

Lawmakers from the region complained when the PILT program was omitted from a budget deal approved this month. The farm bill authorizes $425 million for 2014 payments that would be distributed over the summer. The House approved the farm bill Wednesday on a 251-166 vote, sending it to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled a procedural vote for Monday, with passage expected later next week.

“As a rural Nevadan, I know how important PILT funding is for our counties,” Reid said. “That’s why I worked to ensure this one-year extension was included in the farm bill agreement. It is a matter of fairness that in a state like Nevada, where the federal government owns over 85 percent of the land, our counties receive the revenue they deserve from this land.”

The White House says President Barack Obama will sign the bill.

U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., from the fourth congressional district representing Nye County, and Republican Rep. Joe Heck both voted for the farm bill, a sprawling measure that sets nutrition and agriculture policies for the next five years.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., did not vote, with a spokesman saying he was home in Carson City recovering from eye surgery performed last week.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted against the bill. She complained that while it increased subsidies to farmers, it cut food stamps by about $90 a month for 850,000 recipients.

The change in the food stamp program affected recipients in 16 states that had adopted a supplemental funding formula, but Nevada was not one of them, according to Horsford.

“SNAP recipients in Nevada will not see a dime cut from their benefits in this bill,” he said, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps.

Still, said Titus, “I believe that we can and should be doing more to end hunger in the U.S., and this cut is a step in the wrong direction.”

Nevada lawmakers applauded the restoration of PILT payments.

“These dollars pay for education, law enforcement, infrastructure, and other vital social services,” Horsford said. “This one-year renewal gives some certainty to local governments in planning their budgets, but we need to continue to work on permanent funding.”

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