Senate Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

The U.S. Senate this evening passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes substantial funds for programs important to Alaska, including fisheries disaster relief and military spending.

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One thing not in the bill is Payment in Lieu of Taxes. PILT, as it’s called, compensates local governments that have federal land within their borders for the loss of taxes they would have received if the land was privately owned. Alaska cities and boroughs received a total of $26 million in PILT last year. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says Western lawmakers aren’t giving up.

“It is something that we have committed to resolving. We cannot not fix the issue of PILT,” Murkowski said. “For some of these communities that rely on this funding coming from the government, for some of these communities, it’s 25 percent of their community’s budget.”

When the payments started in the 1970s, they were mandatory spending, like Social Security and Medicare. A few years ago PILT moved to the discretionary side of the ledger, and now it has to compete with other priorities. Murkowski says lawmakers from states without much federal land don’t view PILT with as much urgency.

“We’ve got to get back to the  … commitment that the federal government made to these communities that when we take these lands off your state’s tax rolls, you will, you will receive your federal compensation,” Murkowski said.

The spending bill has already passed the House and on its way to the president’s desk, but Murkowski says PILT may be part of the farm bill Congress is still considering.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz