BOISE – Only one company responded to a call by Idaho lawmakers seeking a third party to appraise federal land in real-time to find out how much money the state would get paid in property taxes if the land were privately held.
Idaho is roughly 63% federal public land, but that land isn’t taxable by local governments. The Legislature earlier this year tasked the Committee on Federalism with finding out how much revenue that land would bring in if it were.
Lawmakers on the committee on Thursday expressed concern at the low number of responses to their plan, but took the next step to authorize a request for proposals that could lead to hiring a technology company for the work.
“This seems to be very specialized,” said Republican Rep. Judy Boyle. “Did we advertise it enough? Or are there just not that many companies out there that do this?”
Julie Weaver, who works in the Idaho attorney general’s office in a section involving contracts, told lawmakers that was unclear. The state initially put out what’s called a request for information, or RFI, and is now putting out a request for proposals, or RFP.
“Some companies choose not to respond to RFIs,” said Weaver. “That doesn’t mean they won’t respond to an RFP, but I don’t know if there is another vendor out there.”
The committee, which deals with sovereignty issues, authorized the state to receive requests for proposals for the next eight weeks, a time period that could entice more companies.
“I would like to get as much competition as possible, and to make sure there are others looking at this, not just one,” said Republican Rep. Sage Dixon, the committee’s co-chairman.
Weaver said the request for proposals allows vendors to propose a pilot project as the funding is limited. The eight-week deadline will occur after the 2022 legislative session begins in January, and lawmakers could increase how much money is available.
The current budget for the project is $250,000.
“That’s probably still up in the air whether we would request additional funding or try to move forward with some other legislation,” said Republican Sen. Steve Vick, the committee’s other co-chairman.
“I’m sure with enough money involved there will be others coming to the table,” said Republican Sen. Carl Crabtree.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in June announced that a federal program called PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, would send $530 million this year to help counties pay for maintaining community services. Idaho received $34.5 million, but some state lawmakers say Idaho should get more.
The Legislature in April approved a concurrent resolution tasking the committee to find out how much money the federal public land would generate in property taxes if privately owned.
The resolution doesn’t say what the committee should do with that information once it’s obtained.
The action by Idaho lawmakers is matched by legislation introduced in a U.S. Senate committee in March by the state’s two Republican senators. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo put forward legislation intended to determine annually the value of land covered by the PILT program, how much tax revenue the land would generate if privately owned and how payments to states could more accurately reflect that tax revenue.
That legislation hasn’t advanced out of the committee.
U.S. lawmakers in both parties have at times taken issue with the PILT program and its payments, particularly Western states such as Idaho containing significant federal lands.
The payments are made annually by the Interior Department and its agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management. The payments also cover federal lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies.
The payments are calculated based on the number of acres of federal land within each county or jurisdiction, and the population of that county or jurisdiction.
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