Keep payments coming

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 27, 2012 06:02 pm

The financial storm bearing down on a few Oregon counties has so far raised scarcely a breeze in Baker County.

But although the tempest threatening Curry, Josephine and some other counties with insolvency remains distant, the heavy weather could come to Eastern Oregon as well.

Congress, though, can stave off the onslaught simply by continuing to recognize that the blessing of an abundance of public land, such as Baker County enjoys, is not without its curses.

Baker County's situation is quite different from, say, Curry County's. The latter depends heavily on the so-called "county payments." Those are subsidies that Congress approved in 2000 to offset the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from logging on public land.

Baker County received this subsidy, too. But even if Congress fails to revive the program, which recently ended, Baker County can make up the difference through an older federal outlay. It's called PILT — Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

PILT, unlike county payments, was not intended to temporarily replace a former revenue source. Rather, PILT, as its name implies, compensates counties for the loss of potential property taxes, since the federal government doesn't pay those.

That, of course, is not likely to change. And so long as the feds are exempt from taxes, Congress should keep sending PILT payments, in full.