WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a bill today to reauthorize and fund the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for six years, permanently reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and permanently fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. Senator Heinrich's bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Angus King (I-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
"This bill would provide long-term, predictable funding that is tremendously important for counties in New Mexico. Secure Rural Schools and PILT help counties avoid budget shortfalls and maintain the economic strength of our communities who rely on these funds for better schools, infrastructure maintenance, fire management, forest health projects, and other local services," said Sen. Heinrich. "This legislation would also reauthorize and permanently fund LWCF. You don't have to look hard in New Mexico to see LWCF's impact. Across our state, we can thank LWCF for protecting some of our most treasured public lands such as the Valles Caldera and the Valle de Oro Wildlife Refuge, and many city parks. From coast to coast, LWCF has preserved our outdoor heritage and supported millions of jobs. I'm proud to introduce this bill and will continue to seek pragmatic solutions to strengthen our rural communities and grow our outdoor recreation economy."
"New Mexicans rely on funding from PILT, Secure Rural Schools and LWCF, which help pay for essential local services like emergency response, education and parks and recreation. But because of congressional dysfunction, communities are left wondering year after year whether they can count on the funding, and that's why I've long fought for a permanent solution," said Sen. Udall, a cosponsor of the bill. "Reauthorizing and funding PILT and SRS will give New Mexicans certainty that these programs will be there for them. Fully funding LWCF will ensure we can continue to protect New Mexico's special places like Bandelier and Valle de Oro. By allowing LWCF to live up to its full potential, we will create recreation opportunities, generate tourism and create and sustain jobs throughout New Mexico and the nation."
The SRS program was created in 2000 to provide consistent and reliable funding for more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools located near national forests across the country. SRS helps pay for schools, roads, and emergency response services in rural counties, and forest health projects in national forests. Senator Heinrich's legislation would grant a six-year extension to provide certainty for these communities and support the continued diversification of economic development in these rural counties.
The bill also seeks to reauthorize and permanently fund LWCF. This highly-successful conservation program is set to expire on September 30. Since LWCF's inception, more than $4 billion has been made available to state and local governments to fund over 40,000 projects in the country. Using revenues from offshore oil and gas development, the LWCF provides funding for additions to national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and other federal public lands, making it the principal source of funds for federal acquisition of lands for outdoor recreation, habitat preservation and protection of special natural, cultural, and historic resources. LWCF has only received full funding once in its 50 years of existence, and many worthy projects are left unfunded each year.
Additionally, the bill would permanently fund the PILT program. PILT is administered through the Department of the Interior and compensates rural counties for certain federal lands that cannot be taxed, including Bureau of Land Management land and national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Funding for each county is determined by a formula and is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county or jurisdiction and the population of that county or jurisdiction. Restoring mandatory funding of PILT not only provides certainty, but also improves infrastructure, safety, and strengthens rural counties that depend on public lands.