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Utah senators took the first step Thursday toward officially urging Congress to stop playing chicken with payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) for Utah's counties.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously to endorse SCR6 urging Congress to adopt reliable annual funding for PILT so counties have certainty in their annual budgeting.

The resolution's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said Congress just this week finally included PILT in the annual farm bill, but Utah counties had to adopt their annual budgets in December unsure whether the money would come.

He said PILT is tied up as a bargaining chip in Congress every year, and Utah counties need the $35 million for such things as search and rescue and law enforcement on public lands. He noted some Utah counties are 90 percent federal land, which cannot be taxed. He said even Salt Lake County has 19 percent federal land.

"This year scared us to death," said Sevier County Commissioner George Thomas, whose county receives about $1.8 million in PILT.

Voting for the farm bill and PILT this year were Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz, all R-Utah. Voting against it were Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.