U.S. Rep. Ron Barber works to bring financial certainty to Southern Arizona counties and to increase funding for preventing and fighting devastating wildfires.
“I came to Congress to fight for the people of Pima and Cochise counties, to create jobs and to ensure the communities I represent have the resources they need.” Barber said. “This common-sense amendment fell victim to partisan politics in Washington and that’s wrong.”
Barber sought to amend a public lands bill by including a five-year extension of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program and to add $100 million to prevent and fight wildfires. Barber’s amendment was rejected in a straight party-line vote.
In the Farm Bill, which the House passed last week and the president will sign Feb. 7, Barber fought to include one year of funding for the PILT program, which reimburses counties for their inability to collect property taxes for federal land in their jurisdictions. This untaxable land poses a major financing burden for local governments. His efforts were successful and one year of PILT funding was included in the bill.
The PILT program helps fill this funding gap, providing badly needed funds to Cochise and Pima counties in Southern Arizona as well as many other counties across the country. Last year, Cochise County received about $2 million from the program and Pima County received nearly $3 million.
Barber offered an amendment to authorize PILT funding for the next five years to give certainty to the people he represents. Although his amendment did not pass the House, Barber will continue his efforts to protect and fund PILT in the future.
“By committing to reauthorize this program for five years today, we can give our communities who depend on these funds the long-term certainty they need,” Barber said on the floor of the House.
Barber, in his remarks in the House, quoted the Cochise County Board of Supervisors’ recent resolution that said:
“A lack of PILT funding places the large and unsustainable burden of providing services on federal lands squarely on the backs of Cochise County taxpayers while the presence of that land creates barriers to economic opportunities.
“Failure to provide PILT funding to Arizona counties in a timely manner will critically impact the budget process and structural solvency of Cochise County and substantially compromise the county’s ability to provide these essential services.”
Barber noted on the floor that “The Sierra Vista Herald in Cochise County reported on the critical need for PILT in my home state, calling the potential loss of the $1.98 million in PILT the county received in 2013 ‘a significant blow to the county.’ ”
He also urged his colleagues to include $50 million for hazardous fuel reduction to prevent wildfires and $50 million to fight wildfires on public lands.
“Arizonans know all too well the horrible effects that wildfires have on our communities,” Barber said, citing last year’s Yarnell Hill Fire in central Arizona that killed 19 firefighters and the 2011 Horseshoe 2 Fire in Cochise County that burned 223,000 acres.
“This funding is key to fighting catastrophic wildland fires and successful fire management strategies across our nation,” Barber said.