blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap
PILT Payment and
Collectivism in Inaction

by Dan Steninger

lko county is supposed to get a federal tax rebate of around $800,000 this month under the PILT program. PILT stands for, depending on whom one asks, either Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or Perpetuating Ill-Conceived Land Policy.

PILT payments are an acknowledgement from Congress that the central government has failed in the goal of moving vast amounts of Western land into private lands, where it can be put to productive use for the benefit of the nation and its citizens. Since Congress has refused to transfer title to that land to individuals and instead has embarked on a program of collective ownership of these millions upon millions of acres, these lands represent a burden, rather than an asset to the various counties in which they lie.

Normally, federally imposed burdens don’t weigh too heavily on the conscience of the Congress. But, on the issue of public lands, so completely counter to the ideals that put this country on the top of the heap, Congress has decided local governments should be compensated for its dereliction of duty. Hence, the PILT program.

Several hundred years of experience has shown us that collective ownership of land is a bad idea. The standard bearer for collectivism, the Soviet Union, is dead. The cause of death was economic collapse, brought about by lack of economic incentives to produce—a situation inherent in collectivism.

Even communist China has figured out its economy can’t run with the government owning everything. China is a long way from letting commoners buy and sell property and businesses, but it has started on that path by opening a few experimental trading zones and letting favored citizens, mostly army generals, keep the profits from the state-owned businesses they manage.

But we shouldn’t expect reality to force our own government to confront the basic problem with its public lands policy. That’s not the way the system is set up. Here in the U.S., there’s no future in solving people’s problems by fixing them.

Let me explain: Congress had the option of disposing of vast amounts of land it had acquired in forming the nation, but instead it held on to huge chunks of that land. That created the problem of abuse of that land due to the fact nobody owned it, so nobody cared about it.

Congress at that point could have solved the problem by reverting to Plan A—privatizing the land. But that would have solved the problem. And if Congress went around solving every problem it created, no one would care much who got sent to Congress. No one, certainly, would care enough to donate large sums of money to congressional hopefuls and incumbents.

Rather than solving the problem by shrinking the government’s unconstitutional land holdings, Congress decided instead to quell the uproar over land abuse by creating new government agencies to watch over the land and put restrictions on those who were trying to make that land productive.

Of course, those agencies hired so many bureaucrats for this chore that they ended up spending more money watching the producers than the producers were paying for the use of the land; and we had an uproar over "subsidized" logging, ranching, etc.

Congress at that point could have reverted to plan A....

Rather, government officials started running off the producers.

Which brings about the problem of saddling Western counties with now unproductive land.

Congress could have reverted to plan A....

Instead, we have PILT payments.

ut the PILT payments aren’t making up for the fact that many Nevada counties are comprised mostly of public lands on which federal agencies have made unproductive, and many of those counties are in tough financial straits.

Congress could solve this problem by reverting to the original goal of privatizing these lands and letting these counties test their theory that this collectivism is killing them.

Instead, according to a news release from Sen. Harry Reid which just landed on our desk: "It’s getting more and more difficult for Nevada’s rural counties to provide necessary services for their residents. We have to increase PILT funding to offset the losses in taxes these communities are facing."

And then we can all praise the good senator as we go down to the bank to cash our government check; hoping along the way that maybe a tourist will stop by and spend a few dollars, helping to make up for all those dollars that disappeared along with the producers.  NJ

Dan Steninger is the editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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