Pitkin County victim of federal budget blues | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County victim of federal budget blues

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Colorado’s Congressional delegation is making a last-gasp effort to save a federal program that pumps millions of dollars each year into the budgets of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.

The federal budget passed last week didn’t include funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT. The program benefits counties with large amounts of public lands, such as national forests. The federal government doesn’t pay property taxes on those lands. PILT funds offset some of that lost revenue for the counties.

Pitkin County received $1.26 million from the program in 2013. About 81 percent of the county is land managed by federal agencies.

Eagle County, which is 78 percent federal lands, received $2.04 million from the program last year.

Garfield County collected $2.83 million. About 63 percent of the land is managed by federal agencies.

Colorado counties received nearly $32 million in PILT funds in 2013. About $21 million went to the mountain counties in the 3rd Congressional District, according to Rep. Scott Tipton. Aspen and Pitkin County are in Tipton’s district.

He voted against the budget when it went before the U.S. House on Wednesday.

Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, is a fiscal hawk and tea party member, but he is fighting to preserve federal spending on PILT. The lack of funding for the program creates problems for his constituents, he said.

“The federal government owns more than a third of the land in Colorado, and in some counties in my district as much as 80 percent of the land is federally controlled. It is irresponsible for the federal government to deny PILT funds to these communities,” Tipton said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) rallied Monday in Grand Junction with county commissioners from western Colorado to show support for the PILT program.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill last week to reauthorize and fund the PILT program.

While PILT funding wasn’t included in the budget, the program isn’t dead yet. Tipton said House leaders pledged that funding would come in a separate Farm Bill.

Bennet acknowledged the possibility and said he will work as a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, which is negotiating the final legislation, to include PILT funding.