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A matter of fairness

Rural counties in Western states have fought for years to receive reasonable compensation for the federal land within their borders.

A bipartisan coalition of senators from Oregon, Idaho and Colorado have proposed legislation that would reauthorize federal payments to rural counties for 10 years.

The legislation doesn’t specify how much money counties would get, but it would avoid the need to fight over whether to renew the payments at all.

The legislation introduced Monday addresses the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which has sent federal money to 1,900 counties in 49 states for more than 40 years. The significance of these payments varies widely depending on how much federal land lies in a given county.

The federal government owns 48% of the land in Jackson County, and it pays no property taxes on any of it. That puts the county at disadvantage when it comes to funding law enforcement and other services. Jackson County received $1.8 million this year, and 79% of that goes to the Sheriff’s Office, Community Justice and the District Attorney’s Office.

PILT payments are separate from the Secure Rural Schools program, which compensates counties for declines in shared income from timber sales on federal land. Oregon’s Deomcratic senators Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch to propose an endowment to make the Secure Rural Schools program permanent.

This is not a partisan issue. The financial stability of rural, historically timber-reliant counties depends on the federal government living up to its responsibilities.