Rural areas subject of Salazar’s first speech

Donna Gray
AP Photo/David Zalubowski In his first speech before Congress, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar promoted more funding a program in which federal land agencies make payments to counties in lieu of taxes.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar used his first speech before Congress to promote a bill aimed at rural America. Salazar, whose family has lived in Colorado’s rural San Luis Valley for 150 years, introduced a bill that would set permanent funding for federal payment in lieu of taxes that fund programs from education to law enforcement. Payment in lieu of taxes, paid by federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to local communities, is especially critical, said Cody Wertz, communications director for Salazar. Salazar’s bill would set funding at $330 million annually.

Last year funding for Payment in lieu of taxes was $230 million, although 50 bipartisan senators wrote President Bush asking for $255 million.”Right now this would set it as a permanent part of the budget. It would always be set at $330 million,” Wertz said.In 2004, Garfield County, for instance, received $1.1 million from payment in lieu of taxes, County Commissioner John Martin said. Sixty-seven percent of the county is federal land. Colorado’s 53 rural counties have more than 20.6 million federal acres. Martin said he worries full funding for payment in lieu of taxes would jeopardize the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

The rural schools act is a guarantee that counties where timber is harvested on federal lands have a permanent funding source, Martin said. Schools receive 25 percent of proceeds from timber sales on Forest Service lands. But timber sales have declined in recent years and Martin said he fears the program to fund rural schools will be cut.”We’re asking for full funding for both programs,” he said. “We want to see permanent funding (for PILT) but we don’t think the (federal) budget can withstand it.”

Wertz disagreed that full funding for would sacrifice the rural schools program.”I don’t know how it would take away (from it). It would be taken out of general treasury,” he said.Vail, Colorado

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