Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank recently contributed an opinion piece that described the importance of federal cash to his and other rural counties that have federal lands not subject to local property taxes.
With more than 90 percent of Valley County managed by the state or federal government, it is not hard to understand why Cruickshank defends his county’s $680,000 Payment in Lieu of Taxes from the federal government.
Cruickshank misses several critical points when he then goes on to demand, “mandatory full funding,” of PILT for 2016 and beyond.
The federal government holds more than $18 trillion of debt, along with at least $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities This Congress cannot compel a future Congress to fund PILT by calling it mandatory; after all, Congress wrote the law and can change it.
Cruickshank and others would do well to wise up to a this important truth: dependency on the federal government is not a path to financial security.
PILT was created in 1976 because Congress decided that the federal government would stop transferring federal lands to the states and that the federal government would retain the lands indefinitely. Sure small scale transfers have occurred, but Congress largely shut down the transfer process. So the PILT Act was passed because the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 effectively ended land transfers. However, federal lands retained were required to be managed according to a definition of multiple use that has slid from what follows as quoted from FLPMA’s definition of multiple use, to the current policy of benign neglect:
The term “multiple use” means the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; the use of some land for less than all of the resources; a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and non- renewable resources, including, but not limited to, recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment with consideration being given to the relative values of the resources and not necessarily to the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return or the greatest unit output. (FLPMA, Definitions, Section 103 ( c)
I bring this up because it is important the people of Valley County realize the reason why they “need” PILT money and have to go begging to Congress for it. Valley County lands which at one time provided good jobs and an economy not so reliant on seasonal tourism dollars, were once managed for multiple use -- but no longer are.
Cruickshank should join other county commissioners and press the federal government to transfer these lands to the states so that local, interested, parties can responsibly manage Valley County resources for multiple uses -- for the benefit of Valley County residents. Otherwise, Valley County will continue down a dangerous path of reliance on D.C., a sure route to poverty.