Legislation to make good on outstanding debts the state owes to counties earned a 9-0 vote Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife owes 36 counties more than $17 million in past-due payment in lieu of taxes payments, intended to mitigate for losses in property tax revenue when the state acquires private property for wildlife management areas. However, the department has neglected to make annual PILT payments since 2001-02, says state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis.
“In the 13 years since the state stopped making PILT payments, counties have struggled to fill the hole left in their budgets,” she said in a news release. “Small, rural counties throughout the state have particularly felt the weight of this burden. This measure will enable the Department of Fish and Wildlife to pay this debt off and make our counties whole.”
Senate Bill 1410 by Wolk and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, will appropriate $19 million from the state’s general fund to the department for its use in fulfilling outstanding PILT payments owed to counties. The bill also appropriates $2 million annually, beginning with the 2014-15 fiscal year, to make ongoing PILT payments.
“While the administration has indicated that paying off debts is one of their top priorities, we have yet to see them live up to their obligations to our counties,” said Nate Beason, a Nevada County supervisor and chairman of the Rural County Representatives of California, the source of SB 1410.
“Meanwhile, local governments are doing everything within their power to reduce expenses and tighten budgets in order to fund critical programs and services for residents.”
SB 1410 is co-authored by a bipartisan group of 18 legislators from many of the counties impacted by this issue. Among them are Assembly members Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, and Jim Frazier, D-Oakley.
The bill, which will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, is supported by the California State Association of Counties, and the counties of Butte, Colusa, Del Norte, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Lake, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, San Bernardino, Solano and Yolo.