Pay Americans First: More Federal Land Purchases Would Add to PILT Burden, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: The Bush Administration has asked Congress for $165 million for fiscal year (FY) 2003 for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program — a decrease of $45 million from last year. The federal government does not pay local counties property taxes on the land it owns in those counties. The PILT program was designed to partially offset costs to rural counties for the loss of those tax dollars. PILT payments are used to fund schools, law enforcement, firefighting, waste disposal and other county services. But the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a study that shows the national average PILT payment to counties is $.17 per acre versus $1.48 per acre on average if the land were privately owned and taxed.

Congress has authorized the PILT payment to be as high as $336 million per year. The Bush Administration does include in its FY 2003 budget $531 million for more land acquisition by the federal government — more than three times what it has allotted for PILT.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: It’s a disgrace that our government does not reimburse counties for loss of taxes on federal lands. Pay Americans first before buying more land!

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The federal government is not a good landlord. It doesn’t pay its obligations on its landholdings to the citizens who are neighbors. These rural counties should not bear the burden of higher taxes or poorer schools so that city dwellers can have a national forest for weekend recreation. We should be giving these communities the full share of property tax dollars they would receive if the lands were privately owned and on the tax roll.

DISCUSSION: Several members of the U.S. House, including Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), sent a letter to sent a letter to Sec. of Interior Gale Norton and Mitch Daniels, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, saying, “The federal government has a legal responsibility to help support local governments in areas where the federal government has acquired land thereby removing it from the local tax base.” The letter also states, “the purchase of additional lands will only add to the PILT burden” and that the federal government should “pay the taxes on the land it already owns before it extends itself further.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION: See the letter to Secretary Norton and Director Daniels at


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