Senators say they’ll try to restore funding for counties
Both Colorado senators on Friday told county officials from around Colorado that they would work to restore federal funding to counties that contain large amounts of federal land.
Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, however, said she was concerned because neither senator would commit to tying his vote on the farm bill to whether it contained payments in lieu of taxes for untaxable federal land.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, told the public-lands committee of Colorado Counties Inc. in Denver that they were working to have the program included in the farm bill.
The $400 million program was dropped from the omnibus budget bill that Congress passed this month. Many counties in the rural west depend on payments in lieu of taxes for a variety of services, from emergency services to roads and schools.
Mesa County, which is 72 percent federal land, last year received $3.1 million from the program, or the equivalent of 64 employees.
“I appreciate his diligence,” Pugliese, a Republican, said of Bennet’s efforts to include the program in the farm bill, in addition to Udall’s support of the idea. “I would appreciate a little fire in the belly that we are going to make this happen.”
The best immediate outcome would be to have the in-lieu program included for five years in the farm bill, Pugliese said.
Spokesmen for both senators said Bennet and Udall are working to having the program funded this year.
Udall “is committed to getting this done,” spokesman Mike Saccone said, noting that Udall is carrying a measure that would permanently fund the program even as he supports efforts to have it funded immediately.
Demands that the senators tie their votes to the program “are premature at this point,” Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said. Bennet is on the conference committee working to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.
“We are very optimistic” the program will be funded, Bozzi said.