Like an ornament in search of a Christmas tree, a federal spending authorization that means more than $1 million to Carbon County now hangs on the Congressional farm bill. At stake is the Payment in Lieu of Taxes - PILT or PILOT - that more than 1,900 counties with federal property within their boundaries have received from Washington since 1976.
The PILT provision did not make it in the Omnibus Spending Bill for Fiscal Year 2014. It was then added to the massive farm bill in both agriculture committees of Congress. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill. The Senate is supposed to act on the matter later this week.
PILT is overshadowed by the contention over food stamp cutbacks in the farm bill, though. The compromise measure worked out by negotiators contains more than twice the amount of reductions the Senate had agreed to last year.
"You can never be sure of anything until the final vote," noted County Commissioner Jae Potter.
His colleague, John Jones, is dissatisfied with the annual uncertainty of the PILT program. "We spend county taxpayer money lobbying for that million dollars every year," he declared. "We need a long-term resolution."
Jones added that if federal funds are not paid, county taxpayers would have to shoulder the burden of paying for services on federal public lands. Last year's payment was about $1,050,000 in Carbon County.
States, cities and counties cannot tax the federal government. However, since the smaller entities do provide services such as search and rescue and fire protection on federal land, Congress decided in 1976 that the federal government could make payments in lieu of property taxes to assist the counties.
The federal government is not taxable by individual states because of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, as interpreted in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819.