Murkowski: Decline in Timber Revenue Means Increased Reliance on Federal Programs

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine federal payments to local governments provided through the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs.

As part of the hearing, the committee also received testimony on three bills:

  • S. 430, a bill from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000;
  • S. 1643, Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) Forest Management for Rural Stability Act; and
  • S. 2108, Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mo.) Small County PILT Parity Act.

“Around the country, states with large swaths of federal lands face significant challenges in developing sustainable economies,” Murkowski said. “When we are not allowed to responsibly develop our resources, our rural communities suffer. We lose jobs. We lose revenues. And many communities are left with inadequate funding for their schools, forcing them to depend more and more on programs like SRS and PILT to make up the difference.”

More than 60 percent of Alaska’s land is managed by the federal government.

“Programs like PILT and SRS are so vital to our rural economies. Many Alaska communities rely on SRS to pay for essential services such as schools, roads, and first responders due to the decline in timber receipts and a lack of access to federally-owned forested lands,” Murkowski said. “Alaska is vast, but we simply don’t have a lot of private land. That leaves a very small tax base to address everything from public services to necessary infrastructure.”

For example, the federal government owns more than 97 percent of the 3,400-square mile-span of the Borough of Wrangell. Mayor Stephen Prysunka testified at the hearing, and shared that SRS payments last year provided one-sixth of the school district’s annual budget.

“Communities like mine saw their timber industries decimated, which not only reduced the revenues we received from production on our national forests, but also reduced economic growth and tax revenue,” Prysunka said. “In fiscal year 2018 alone, SRS provided $257 million to over 700 rural counties, parishes and boroughs across the nation, as well as 4,000 school districts. These payments supported county road maintenance, conservation projects, search and rescue missions and fire prevention programs, among other essential services.” 

Wrangell City and Borough Mayor Prysunka

Click the photo for video of Wrangell City and Borough Mayor Prysunka at today’s hearing

The other witnesses who appeared before the committee were: Denise Flanagan, Director of the Office of Budget at the Department of the Interior; Allen Rowley, the Associate Deputy Chief of the USDA Forest Service; and Justin Dilley, a teacher from the Pocahontas County Board of Education.

S. 430, a bill to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, would provide two years of SRS reauthorization to assist the over 700 counties across the United States that receive payments from it. Murkowski is a cosponsor of the bill.

S. 1643, the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, would establish the “Forest and Refuge County Foundation” to manage a new endowment, the “Natural Resources Permanent Fund,” as part of an effort to make permanent the SRS program. 

S. 2108, the Small County PILT Parity Act, amends the population-based ceiling payment for PILT Section 6902 payments. Current law assigns all counties with a population under 5,000 people the same per capita payment rate. This bill adds four new population caps to provide different funding levels below for counties with less than 5,000 people. Murkowski is a cosponsor.

Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.

Related Issues: Energy