Colorado Senator Bennet introduces bill to restore rural school payments
Steamboat Springs — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined in introducing a bill last week to renew the Secure Rural Schools program for three years, helping fund schools, roads and law enforcement programs in Routt County and other rural areas.
Bennet and Senators Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced the bi-partisan bill Thursday, which would extend the SRS program for three years at 2011 funding levels, providing about $360 million that would be split between more than 700 rural counties in 40 states.
The bill, called the Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act, also would restore mandatory funding levels for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which compensates counties that contain federal lands to help offset losses in property taxes.
“Restoring PILT to mandatory funding and extending Secure Rural Schools funding will give our rural communities the certainty they need to plan and budget for things like school construction, police and fire protection and road maintenance,” Bennet said in a news release after the bill was introduced. “There is no reason for Congress to leave them in limbo every year, and this bill will help fix that.”
Originally passed in 2000 and renewed multiple times, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was created to provide an alternate funding formula for rural areas that relied on decreasing timber payment funds.
The act expired Sept. 30, leaving states to revert to the previous 1908 Act, a formula that generates much less funding for schools, projects of the U.S. Forest Service and other entities that used the money.
Under the change, payments to Routt County would be cut 44 percent in 2015, resulting in a loss of about $77,000 to the Steamboat Springs School District alone.
The proposed $360 million in SRS funding nationwide is up from $300 million received last year and a proposed $50 million the counties would split under the 1908 Act.
For the PILT program, the proposed legislation would ensure that mandatory funding levels, expired in 201,3 would be guaranteed moving forward, rather than counties relying on a yearly appropriation that could fluctuate.
“PILT provides crucial resources to counties to help deliver basic services to Colorado communities,” Bennet said.
Colorado counties received $34.5 million in PILT funds for the 2014 fiscal year.
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