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President Calls for Slimmed-down Federal Payouts to Rural Counties

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Photo by Kirk Siegler
Some rural counties in Colorado rely on federal cash payouts to pay for things like road maintenance and schools.

Some rural Colorado counties are getting a hand in President Obama’s proposed budget thanks to a request for more than $300 million to fund two programs that provide cash payouts to counties with large amounts of public lands.


The Secure Rural Schools Act and PILT, or the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, are designed to give counties with large tracts of federal land more stable funding sources for local infrastructure and schools.  The idea is that unlike larger, urban counties, these remote areas don’t have as much of a chance to collect property tax revenue because the Feds own most of the land. 

So the federal government has been cutting them a check. 

But the programs are scheduled to sunset at year’s end, and counties in places like remote northwestern and southern Colorado could be in a bind. 
"So the question is, is the rest of the country going to have the stomach to fund this program when a lot of other programs are going to be receiving cuts or on the table for elimination," says economist Mark Haggerty of the Bozeman, Montana-based think tank, Headwaters Economics.

Haggerty says the possible extension of the payout programs may present an opportunity for more forest restoration jobs in rural counties.

"I think the key to that is going to be showing that there is some real return to the taxpayer," he says.
Without these programs, some environmentalists worry rural counties will turn to more logging and other resource extraction to make up for the loss in funding. President Obama’s proposed funding level is lower than what supporters of the programs have lobbied for. Meanwhile, the split-Congress would still need to approve legislation extending them.

View an interactive county by county breakdown of PILT and SRSA payments by clicking here.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.