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 issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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