Nevada should control its land and not settle for paltry alms

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The silence is deafening.

Because so much of the West in general and Nevada in particular is controlled by the federal government and cannot be taxed, Congress four decades ago came up with a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Each year about this time the U.S. government writes checks to counties to compensation for lost tax revenue.

A year ago Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid issued a press release bragging about all the money Nevada was getting, pointing out that “Nevada’s PILT payments rose roughly $2.1 million from $23.3 million to $25.4 million.”

“PILT funding has a remarkable impact for Nevada counties,” said Reid a year ago. “Over 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, making it essential that Nevada receive its fair share. These funds support rural communities across Nevada in funding high-quality education, law enforcement, and healthcare systems. I have worked hard to make sure that these crucial programs are fully-funded, and I am grateful that Congress was able to extend these provisions this year. I will work to ensure PILT is again funded for this upcoming fiscal year.”

This year no press release. Perhaps that’s because the Nevada checks this year amount to only $23.26 million, less than two years ago. Nationally PILT payouts are off by $32 million, down to $405 million from $437 million a year ago.

In a press release Interior Secretary Sally Jewell proclaimed, “PILT payments are critical for maintaining essential public services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.”

The very next paragraph of the press release, without a hint of awareness of its miserly scope, reports that the “Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting,” and shares some royalties with the states.

So, the agency collects $14 billion from land that could well be held by the states, counties or private citizens and then magnanimously doles out less than 3 percent in PILT..

The state Legislature this year passed a bill urging Congress to turn over some of the federal land to the state.

A report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls, while the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre. It also estimated the state could net $114 million by taking over just 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — nearly half the annual general fund budget.

Earlier this year Rep. Mark Amodei introduced H.R.1484 — Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where its co-sponsor, Rep. Cresent Hardy, sits. The bill calls for transferring federal land to the state in phases. The initial phase would authorize the state to select no less than 7.2 million acres of public land for conveyance to Nevada.

In addition to being paltry the PILT checks are high inequitable, varying wildly in payment per acre from state to state and county to county.

Remember, Reid said it was “essential that Nevada receive its fair share.”

While Nevada will get 41 cents per acre this year, California this year will rake in 96 cents per acre, Arizona gets $1.13, New Mexico fetches $1.54 and Utah’s share is $1.05.

The calculations also account for population, which probably explains why tiny Esmeralda County here in Nevada nets 6 cents an acre, while Lyon gets $2.20 per acre and Washoe $1.07. Other county payments will be: White Pine, 41 cents; Elko 40 cents; Eureka, 15 cents; Lincoln, 12 cents; Lander, 26 cents; Mineral, 33 cents.

Reid has had time to send out press releases praising the Supreme Court for upholding ObamaCare and overturning anti-gay marriage laws and praising Homeland Defense for not detaining illegal alien families, but not PILT.

We urge our congressional delegation to move forward with legislation to turn federal land over to Nevada so the state taxpayers can profit from it instead of settling for paltry handouts. — TM

Comments

  1. Stanley Parker says:

    I’ve been reading the drivel from this empty hat for a long time. Quick question for Mr Thomas Mitchell…who is going to pay to maintain these formerly federal lands? Who is going to pay to protect these formerly federal lands? The state? Nevada can’t even pay the bills we have now. So basically what you want to do is take the land from the feds and sell it to your cronies so they can profit from it at the expense of the citizens of Nevada. That makes sense…

    • Thomas Mitchell says:

      If all less fails, read the drivel: “A report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls, while the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre. It also estimated the state could net $114 million by taking over just 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — nearly half the annual general fund budget.”

  2. Floyd Rathbun says:

    It may be worse than the author indicates since many Nevada county officials are indifferent to the loss of the livestock industry in their counties but they have never seen a PILT check they didn’t like. Their budgets even include PILT as a source of income forgetting that Congress could just say no.

    Restoring Nevada control of rangelands and restoring the lost numbers of livestock would be better than begging for PILT payments. The regulatory destruction of Nevada’s range livestock industry by federal agencies means that local economies are now denied millions of dollars of retail purchases, wages, and even tax income since the appraised values of ranches have been reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 40 years. Our county officials don’t seem to mind that the taxable value of what little real property we have has evaporated. I don’t know what it will take to convince our leaders that locally owned industry (cattle and sheep ranches) would result in much greater cash income to the county coffers.

    One illustration was provided by Dr. A. L. Lesperance of Paradise Valley, NV in “Economic Importance of Livestock In Nevada’s Cow Counties” (1996) revised in 2010. Lesperance explains that each “mother cow” or Animal Unit (AU) requires about $350 per year as operating expenses of a ranch. Other authors report annual cash expenditures from $374 to over $400 per head per year. Mr. Fred Fulstone of Smith NV calculates that about 3.5 sheep require a similar operating cost. Ranch operating costs include everything from labor to veterinary supplies and are mostly retail purchases providing cash that circulates within the local economy. The Lesperance figure for the cost of cattle production indicates that Nevada ranches that are left spend as much as $150,000.000 per year for cattle production and up to $8,500,000 per year for sheep production.

    Federal agencies have enthusiastically cut the numbers of livestock that they permit to graze on BLM and Forest Service controlled lands; but those lands still produce the grass and browse every year that used to be consumed by livestock. There is a potential to restore 250,000 cattle to Nevada rangelands which would result in an additional $87,500,000 being spent by ranchers within various Nevada communities each year and restoring sheep to 1,000,000 animals would result in an additional $91,500,000 of cash circulating within the Nevada economy every year. But our leaders can’t figure out how $337,500,000 of cash spent annually within Nevada communities can possibly be as valuable as the pittance check from the federal government that is less than 1/10 of that amount.

  3. Jeff Pauly says:

    This debate has been going on for along time now. Many are worried the state and counties will sell off land that then will be denied use by the general public. This can be addressed. Keep in mind dealing with local elected officials is far easier than a bureocry in DC. It will cost the state but it will also generate revenue. If any land (and some will) be sold, it would have the people locally to say yea or nay. As the article notes we get little back from the feds and have much to gain if state and counties are able to take control

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