While most counties nationally increased property taxes in the past decade, one landholder always escaped them. The federal government never raised how much it pays the counties in lieu of such local tax.
So Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is helping push a bill that would more than double such payments from the 75 cents an acre approved by Congress in 1980 to $1.65.Land owned by the federal government is legally tax-exempt. But it pays some money in lieu of taxes to local governments for services they provide and to lessen the financial impact that large amounts of tax-free land have on some areas.
"The state and the counties have been shortchanged for many years now and the least they should expect from the federal government is fairness," Owens said.
"The counties need this money and are entitled to it. This payment plan was one of the compromises of statehood - that land held by the federal government would benefit the state as well."
Owens and Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., are pushing the bill in the House but have no other co-sponsors yet. However, 30 senators are pushing a similar bill in the Senate. Still, Owens said the bill has an excellent chance of passing this year and believes support will quickly increase as the issue is publicized.
Ironically, Owens' district is entirely within Salt Lake County - which has among the lower percentages of federal land among the counties in Utah. However with redistricting by the Legislature approaching, most politicians believe the district's boundaries will be redrawn to include rural areas where the federal government owns a much higher percentage of land.