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Trump Cabinet member visits Pahrump, announces millions

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made an official stop in Pahrump on Monday to announce millions of dollars in federal funding for local governments around Nevada and across the nation.

From the Bob Ruud Community Center at 150 N. Highway 160, Zinke announced $464.6 million in funding for 2017 for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) – federal payments given to local governments to help offset property tax losses because of non-taxable federal lands within a jurisdiction.

The amount appropriated was the largest in the program’s 40-year history.

Zinke spent much of the day meeting with state senators and assemblymen, including James Oscarson, R-Pahrump. The secretary also met with congressional staff and Lincoln and Nye County commissioners for a roundtable discussion prior to an official signing, which was attended by local and state media, along with many of Nevada’s dignitaries.

Nevada was appropriated slightly more than $26.1 million for fiscal year 2017 in PILT funding. Nye County will receive $3,153,811 of that, Zinke announced at the signing event. That’s a jump of just over 1 percent from 2016’s $3,108,497 appropriation.

Nationally, there are 1,900 jurisdictions that receive funding through PILT. In 2016, PILT payments totaled $451.6 million. Zinke estimated that $8 billion has been appropriated for jurisdictions since 1996. The program began in 1977.

Zinke called the 2017 increase a sign of President Donald Trump’s commitment to rural communities.

For Nye County, local representatives see the appropriation of PILT as important, though PILT is considered discretionary to Congress.

“With 98 percent of the land in Nye County being federally managed or owned, PILT is not seen as discretionary to us, and as such, needs to be guaranteed,” Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen said.

The state of Nevada’s land is roughly 85 percent federally held.

Nye County receives about 33 cents an acre in federal money, while it gets $85 annually from landowners, Schinhofen said.

PILT has not always been a stable source of income, Schinhofen said.

“There were years in the past that we weren’t fully funded,” he said.

Yucca Mountain

For 2018, Schinhofen said he is hoping to see President Donald Trump’s budget passed, including funding to get Yucca Mountain moving forward.

This has been a point of contention between several Nevada leaders and the Trump administration. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval came out in late April opposing the measure following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

“While the secretary and I do not agree on Yucca Mountain, a position I have reiterated to him in every discussion, I am grateful that he has always welcomed an open dialogue and strong relationship between the state of Nevada and Department of Energy,” Sandoval said in a written statement in April.

Other topics during a presentation prior to signing the release of funding included the future of national monument designations in Nevada. Zinke said he is planning to return for the tour of Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments sometime before the end of July.

The secretary said he wants to speak with stakeholders before deciding to make changes and rescind or reduce those designations.

Small protest

A small protest was staged outside Bob Ruud Community Center during Zinke’s visit by representatives from the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

The group released a written statement early Tuesday.

“Secretary Zinke’s visit to Nevada continues the Trump administration’s dreadful record of secrecy and cronyism,” said Patrick Donnelly, a wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The vast majority of Nevadans want Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments to be protected. But rather than hear from them, Zinke is traveling across the state from one clandestine Koch brothers meeting to the next. Zinke is obliged to listen to the voices of the people, not those of corporate polluters and the elected officials they have in their pockets.”

The secretary also made a stop in Northern Nevada on Sunday. He spoke in a private meeting the day before landing in Pahrump, to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a right-leaning policy group, which was once headed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruit. Pruitt left the organization after becoming administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at jmeehan@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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