In 2000, Congress enacted the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) to provide funding for rural counties and school districts to replace revenue from dwindling forest receipts due to a national decline in timber harvesting. When first enacted, SRS provided nearly $60 million annually to California’s forested counties, with half of the funding allocated to school districts, and half of the funding allocated to counties for county roads. SRS initially expired in 2006 and has been reauthorized multiple times since first enacted, all of which have included program funding reductions.
In October 1976, Congress enacted the Federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Actto provide federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property tax revenues due to nontaxable federal lands within local governments' boundaries. Counties containing National Forests, National Parks, lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), lands dedicated to the use of federal water, National Wildlife Reserves, and inactive or semi-active Army installations are eligible for Federal PILT payments. Federal PILT helps local governments provide firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.
In late March 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, commonly referred to as the “Doc Fix” (California Congressional Delegation Roll Call Vote can be accessed here). The primary purpose of the “Doc Fix” is to restructure Medicare reimbursements; however, attached to the measure were provisions which provide a two-year extension of SRS. In April 2015, the U.S. Senate voted to pass H.R. 2, sending the bill to the President who signed the measure into law shortly after. The SRS extension provided California counties and schools nearly $27.3 million in 2014 and $25.9 million in 2015.
Prior to the 113th Congress adjourning in December 2014, Congress authorized $450 million for 2015 Federal PILT payments. In June, 2016, the Department of Interior began issuing counties their 2015 Federal PILT payments. RCRC will continue to advocate for a multi-year reauthorization and will urge Congress to take action to reauthorize the program before September 30th, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year.
In addition, RCRC will support advocacy efforts to secure federal forestry reform. It is expected that the House of Representatives will consider a comprehensive forestry reform measure a potential replacement to SRS.
RCRC launched a statewide media and advocacy campaign in the first quarter of 2015, which included the adoption of local SRS and Federal PILT Resolutions urging Congress to immediately reauthorize and provide long-term funding for these critical programs. 27 rural counties adopted the SRS Resolution, and 28 rural counties adopted the federal PILT Resolution. These efforts helped raise awareness for both our SRS and Federal PILT advocacy and media efforts.
RCRC supports the long-term reauthorization and full funding of the SRS and Federal PILT programs. SRS and Federal PILT funding is vital for the nation's forested counties to continue providing critical programs and services to rural communities.
The latest RCRC report on the status of federal activities to restore SRS funding is available here.
Staff: Paul A. Smith and Randall Echevarria