WASHINGTON – Colorado’s Democratic Senators who voted for a budget that excluded $32 million for the state’s rural areas are also backing a deal to instead attach the money as a rider to the controversial and expensive Farm Bill.
The payment-in-lieu-taxes, or PILT funding ran out in December leaving thousands of counties nationwide struggling to make up for the total $400 million to pay for emergency services and education.
Meanwhile, the Farm Bill has languished for two years in battles over federal subsidies and food stamp funding.
By tying it to PILT money, critics say Western Republicans would essentially be blackmailed into supporting the Farm Bill.
Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall are part of a mostly Democratic coalition who voted in favor of the budget without PILT dollars, then on the same day signed a letter urging congressional leaders to attach the funding to the Farm Bill.
“They’ve created another crisis, created uncertainty for political reasons,” said a Republican Senate staffer familiar with the funding switch.
“We saw it coming from a mile away when they did not put (PILT) in the budget bill,” the staffer said. “By keeping PILT out of the budget, leadership set up Western Republicans to vote for the Farm Bill.”
“It’s total extortion,” the staffer added.
More than $76 billion was spent last year for the food stamps program, which allows participation for anyone receiving $1 in heating assistance, and more than 47 million Americans are now enrolled.
The Farm Bill would also include what some critics describe as “Soviet-style” price supports for dairy products they fear would drive up the price of milk.
“They’re going to lard up the farm bill and we’re going to get rolled,” the staffer said. “It’s total Washington nonsense.”
Colorado House Republicans voted against the $1.1 trillion budget and spending measure that did not contain the PILT money, while Colorado’s House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
“It’s disappointing that funding for PILT was conspicuously absent … despite repeated pleas from Western members to renew the vital program,” Tipton said in a statement after the vote.
The PILT funding goes to nearly 2,000 counties that lose out on property taxes needed for schools and law enforcement because they are surrounded by significant acreages of public land operated by the federal government, such as national forests.
About 70 percent of the Western Slope is public land.
“Money ran out in December, and if not funded soon communities will be forced to make significant cuts,” the staffer said. “Counties are freaking out.”
Interestingly, the letter from Bennet and Udall asking Farm Bill negotiators to attach PILT funding to their measure was also signed by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and had the authority to fund PILT in the spending bill.
“Counties across the country, particularly those containing significant federal landholdings, rely on PILT funds as sizeable percentages of their budgets,” the senators’ letter said.
“Unfortunately the FY 2014 Omnibus spending bill did not include resources for this vital program,” the letter said.