The U.S. Senate voted 68-32 on Feb. 4 to approve a much broader farm bill that extends PILT funding for the current federal fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.
Funding for the program had been in jeopardy after federal lawmakers reneged on earlier promises to set aside PILT money in an omnibus spending bill that was signed into law last month.
The program’s supporters in Congress responded by tacking more than $410 million in PILT funding onto the farm bill, which cleared the U.S. House of Representatives in late January by a vote of 251-166. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk, and the White House has indicated that he will sign it into law.
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he’s happy that Congress temporarily restored funding for PILT, which accounts for nearly 12 percent of the county’s general fund budget. However, Jackson is worried that the program could get caught in the political crossfire over future farm bills, or other congressional debates that have nothing to do with PILT itself.
“I’m glad we got through that, but I’m concerned for the future,” he said.
Indeed, although both of Utah’s Republican senators say they support the PILT program, only one of them voted to approve the latest farm bill.
Sen. Orrin Hatch supported the overall bill, even as he acknowledged that it wasn’t perfect. But Sen. Mike Lee opposed it, alleging that Congress used PILT payments as a political football in order to ensure that the “deeply flawed” legislation would clear both houses.
The overall $956 billion Agricultural Act of 2014 includes subsidies for farmers and ranchers, as well as reduced funding for food stamps. In Lee’s eyes, those funding priorities amount to a “Beltway marriage of convenience between welfare and corporate welfare.”
Jackson said he and other county officials are surprised that Lee voted against the bill.
But Lee’s vote could serve as a reminder that future PILT funding will remain up in the air as long as it remains tied to potentially controversial — and unrelated – bills.
“I still think that it’s politically vulnerable, and the county needs to think about that,” Jackson said.
Moving forward, Jackson said the county’s 2015 budget should include some kind of contingency plan that would ease the shock in the event of another short-term – or long-term – PILT funding loss.