Peters Introduces Legislation to Help Rural Communities

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) announced today that he joined 12 of his colleagues to introduce a bill 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. Peters joined Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus King (I-ME) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in introducing the legislation this week.

“The Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs enable rural counties to invest in their local education and infrastructure while avoiding budget shortfalls,” said Senator Peters. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund continues to be an indispensable tool for protecting our state’s most treasured natural places for all to enjoy, from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. This legislation will secure long-term, stable funding for these three essential federal programs, strengthening local communities across Michigan.”

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. This 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, 2015. 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, leaving many worthy projects 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. In the 2015 fiscal year, Michigan received more than $4 million in PILT funding for 29 counties in the state. Restoring mandatory funding of PILT not only provides certainty, but also improves infrastructure, safety, and strengthens rural counties that depend on public lands.