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FROM THE EDITOR: Pass the PILT please, Uncle Sam

The headlines say it all.

In the Salt Lake Tribune it’s “Utah senators urge firm PILT funding.”

At the tiny Canon City Daily Record in Fremont County, Colo. it’s “Bill assures county will receive PILT funding.”

“Farm bill restores millions to Wyo.” was the Feb. 5 headline in the Wyoming Tribune.

“Farm Bill, PILT inclusion good for Eddy County,” read the headline in the Artesia News in New Mexico.

At the Elko Daily Free Press on Jan. 28, the newspaper ran a story headlined, “Reid: PILT funds in Farm Bill.”

So the story line ran thusly throughout the West, a response to the annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes funding ominously disappearing from a trillion-dollar omnibus federal budget bill passed at the end of January only to reappear in the massive Farm Bill passed by the Senate earlier this week.

Poof, it disappears. Hocus pocus, like a not-so-entertaining magic trick, it reappears.

Make no mistake, we need our PILT money. Nevada reaps about $23 million, or 40 cents an acre, from the $410 million in federal funds. For comparison, Colorado gets about $32 million, Utah $35 million and Wyoming about $25 million.

That money is particularly important to rural counties like ours in each of those states because they are filled as it were with federal lands that add zero dollars to their tax bases.

In Nye County, PILT funds represent a full 10 percent of the annual budget. Things would be much worse for our communities without this funding, which goes for everything from police and fire services to roads and health care. So you can imagine how frightening was the prospect that the funding would somehow not get renewed by Congress, which has funded the program since 1976.

Not funding the program would simply throw the budgeting process at the county level into chaos, a politically untenable situation for any West state politician.

But despite one more year of funding, the question remains: If Congress has funded this program since 1976, why isn’t it permanent?

Almost four decades have passed since Congress started earmarking this money — sometimes called “Western Welfare” — and yet the federal budget this year left politicians from New Mexico to Wyoming scrambling.

Our congressman, Steven Horsford, says this is unacceptable. I agree.

“It would be destructive to local budgeting processes if PILT funds vanished. I am glad that these dollars will be available to rural communities in my district, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make this funding more stable and consistent.”

Amen. Heck with stable, though, let’s make sure this sort of anxiety doesn’t occur again, or at least put in place a program to wean western states off the money while delivering them land and resources currently under federal management to offset the hit to their treasuries. Trade largesse for land, if you must. But don’t leave us hanging.

Not funding, forgetting to fund, or holding rural counties hostage for some political theater is simply not acceptable.

Make PILT funding permanent. Rural counties in this part of the country already have enough to worry about without having to worry about Washington cratering their budgets on a whim.

Get ready for the water wars

I and a few dozen of our fellow residents attended the first meeting of the recently appointed groundwater basin management committee Wednesday evening at the Calvada Eye.

State Engineer Jason King was on hand to alleviate any fears residents might have that this was the first move to cap wells or end growth and development in Pahrump Valley.

I found King forthcoming, approachable, respectful of the diverse opinions of audience members and altogether someone this community can truly work with to fix the imbalance that threatens our water basin.

I came away with a good feeling, for once, that we might actually be in good hands. The parties just have to do the work they were appointed to do and nothing more.

Of course, there were some cringe-worthy moments; this wouldn’t be Pahrump without them. I’m not fond of people who intrude on government meetings where real work is being attempted only to give speeches about the evils of “Big Government.”

We get it. Now let the adults talk and help save your water basin.

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