M. Lynne Corn Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Under federal law, local governments are compensated through various programs for reductions to their property tax bases due to the presence of most federally owned land. These lands cannot be taxed, but may create demand for services such as fire protection, police cooperation, or simply longer roads to skirt the federal property. Some of these programs are run by specific agencies and apply only to that agency’s land. The most widely applicable program, administered by the Department of the Interior (DOI), applies to many types of federally owned land, and is called “Payments in Lieu of Taxes,” or PILT. The authorized level of PILT payments is calculated under a complex formula. This report addresses only the PILT program administered by DOI. There is no PILT-like program generally applicable to military lands, but a small fraction of military lands are eligible for the DOI PILT program. Furthermore, PILT does not apply to Indian-owned lands, virtually none of which are subject to local taxes.
This report explains PILT payments, with an analysis of the five major factors affecting the calculation of a payment to a given county. It also describes the effects of certain changes in PILT in 2008. Previously, annual appropriations were necessary to fund PILT, but a 2008 provision (in P.L. 110-343) for mandatory spending ensured that, beginning with FY2008 and continuing through the payment to be made in 2012, all counties will receive 100% of the authorized payment. Efforts have begun to convert the temporary mandatory spending into a permanent feature of PILT. However, given current attention to debt and deficits on the one hand, and the fiscal pressures on local governments on the other, extension of the mandatory spending feature seems likely to be controversial. If the provision is not extended, the program would return to funding through annual appropriations.
Other issues have been the inclusion of additional lands under the PILT program, particularly some or all Indian lands, which are not now eligible for PILT. Most categories of Indian-owned lands cannot be taxed by local governments, though they generally enjoy county services. In some counties, this means a very substantial portion of the land is not taxable. The remaining tax burden (for roads, schools, fire and police protection, etc.) therefore falls more heavily on other property owners. To help compensate for this burden, some counties have proposed that Indian lands (variously defined) be included among those eligible for PILT payments. Other lands mentioned from time to time for inclusion include those of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. In addition, some counties would like to revisit the compensation formula and emphasize a payment rate more similar to property tax rates (which vary widely among counties), a feature that would be a major change in counties with high property values. Finally, for lands in the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), some would argue that all lands of the system should be eligible for PILT, rather than limiting the PILT payments to lands reserved from the public domain and excluding PILT payments for acquired lands. The exclusion of NWRS-acquired lands affects primarily counties in eastern states.
Date of Report: September 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 23 Order Number: RL31392 Price: $29.95
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