President Trump Signs Great Outdoors Act into Law
August 6, 2020
On Tuesday August 4, President Trump signed the Great Outdoors Act into law. The new law was passed with bi-partisan support and will provide up to $9.5 billion over five years to fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 national park units. The Act is expected to create more than 108,000 new jobs to repair park infrastructure, including access roads and bridges in adjacent communities.
In addition, the law allocates $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire and preserve land for public use. This fund is paid for by royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters. The LWCF was established in 1964 with an authorization level of $900m, but in most years Congress has appropriated less than half of this amount. The LWCF helps fund the four main federal land programs (National Parks, National Forests, Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management) and provides grants to state and local governments to acquire land for recreation and conservation.
NACO had concerns with permanent mandatory funding of LWCF because it is also used by federal lands agencies to purchase private and state lands to add to the federal estate which removes those lands from county property tax rolls. While these lands are generally Payments In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) eligible, PILT payments are much less than property tax revenues.
NACO encouraged Congress and the administration to mitigate this scenario by ensuring new land acquisitions receive the support of the elected officials within an impacted county, while also supporting long-term funding for federal lands counties through the PILT and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) sponsored an amendment to secure ten years of full, mandatory PILT funding and establish an endowment fund to make permanent SRS payments to national forest counties, but the amendment was not considered by the full Senate.
CSAC will continue to support efforts to secure PILT and SRS funding for rural and forested counties in conjunction with NACO’s efforts on Public Lands issues.