New Mexico Senator Seeks Increased Federal Tax Compensation for Exempt Land

Source: Las Cruces Sun-News
Publication date: 2003-06-21

Jun. 21, 2003--The federal government has awarded New Mexico more than $21 million for payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) -- money paid each year to local governments to compensate for tax-exempt federal land.

Although New Mexico receives more PILT funds than any other state, at least one state officials says the payment is not what it should be.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is unhappy the state is not getting more PILT funding.

"While New Mexico tops the list of states that receive PILT funding," Bingaman said, "I continue to believe the counties in our state are shortchanged because Congress underfunds PILT year after year." According to Bingaman, PILT is authorized at more than $345 million, but was funded this year at $218 million.

Thirty-three percent of the land in New Mexico is federally owned.

In Doña Ana County, 85 percent of the land is either state or federally owned, leaving just 15 percent for a tax base.

Doña Ana County's share of PILT this year is $1,611,642.

Each February before the county makes its request for the funds, the county manager, assistant county manager and finance director go through requests from agencies interested in the funds.

The Board of County Commissioners at its May 27 meeting honored requests for more than $500,000. Among recipients were the Valley Community Library, the bookmobile, extension services and the Arts Council.

"There are not specific guidelines for dispersal of PILT funds," said Grant Taylor, assistant communication director of the county. "The county commissioners chose to use funds for service agencies rather than put the money in the county's General Reserve Fund."

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton began the practice of sending the PILT funds to states three months early to help local governments coordinate the budgets for the fiscal year.

PILT was created in 1976 and is administered by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management.

"This money helps communities pay for roads, search and rescue operations, and other services," said BLM Director Kathleen Clarke.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said, "These payments are one of the ways the federal government can fulfill its role of being a good neighbor to local communities."


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(c) 2003, Las Cruces Sun-News, Las Cruces, N.M. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

Publication date: 2003-06-21


Commentary: Payments in Lieu of Taxes::Feds Only Pay Counties 55% of what they owe.

An action brief by Col. Randy Givens U. S. Army (retired)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division of Realty website at: shows that their budget request for PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes" or federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable Federal lands within their boundaries) is only 55% of what they owe the counties.

USFWS likes to whine that it is Congress, which shortchanges the Counties .... However, Congress only goes along with what the USFWS says it wants to pay... which is about half what it owes the counties. See the third from the last sentence at, which starts with "The National Wildlife Refuge Fund 2003 budget request..."

To understand how/why they do this, think of the entire federal budget for a year as a pie. USFWS knows that it will only get so big of a slice of the pie. They know what they want to do with the money they get... buy more land. This is in spite of the fact that they owe the counties a bunch of money. Therefore, to try to hide the truth, they ask Congress for only half of what they owe us, and then blame Congress for not funding PILT at 100%.

Each year, the USFWS sends its Refuge Managers to the County Commissioners and make a big deal of presenting the PILT check to the County, with the excuse that they would pay more, but Congress would not give them all the money. That is a lie, and they know it.

One technique we can use against them is to anticipate their dog and pony show, and expose it for what it is. Just before show time, we need to get the County Commissioner's attention, with copies of the USFWS Budget Request, and show them that the Feds lie. When the USFWS comes to show off and present the check, the Commissioners call him on the lie and write a letter to Congress asking for future 100% funding for PILT. If the Commissioners will not do it, then get local tax activists to publicly accuse the Commissioners of not doing their job.

This can help by
1. Getting the Counties the money, they need to help offset the USFWS theft of their land/tax base.

2. Denying USFWS that money to grab more land.

Included in all this should be an educational item that the USFWS destroys tax base by buying Conservation Easements, which reduces the value of the land (no development potential), and therefore permanently holds down the value of the land for taxes, thereby permanently reducing the tax base of the County.


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