Round Up: The PILT-Down Farm Bill?

Saving PILT • Closing rural hospitals • Pipeline opponent running for U.S. Senate • Propane price spike • Colorado GOP still fighting renewable-fuel legislation • Monument to rural electrification? • Best Main Streets • Fracking county parks?

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Senators Push to Get County Payments into Farm Bill. For 1,850 counties that receive payments in lieu of taxes from the federal government, the farm bill just got more interesting.

A group of senators is trying to get the payments (also known as PILT) put into the 2014 farm bill. That bill is supposed to be on the congressional agenda this month.

The addition of PILT to the farm bill could increase the bill’s chances of passage, some say. Or it could further complicate the difficulties Congress has had in getting the bill through both chambers of the Legislature.

PILT provides payments to counties where the federal government owns land. It’s meant to make up for the loss of local property-tax revenue, since federal lands are tax exempt.

Every state except Rhode Island has a county that received PILT in 2013. Some counties budgeted for PILT revenue in 2014, based on previous funding and the shape of Obama’s budget proposal. But the final version of the budget passed by Congress last week didn’t include the funding.

We’ve got to confess, until now, our only association with the word “pilt” was Piltdown Man, a archeological hoax that took scientists 40 years to solve. Optimists believe it won’t take nearly that long to pass a new farm bill.

Let Rural Hospitals Close. A Georgia lawmaker’s solution for the fiscal crisis that may be facing some rural hospitals? Let the hospitals close.

WABE Radio reports:

“There are some of those rural hospitals that need to close,” said State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. Cooper adamantly opposes the health reform law and its optional expansion of Medicaid. She says some Georgia communities are simply too small for a hospital.

“When your census is that low and you have hospital administration and you have to have 24 hour-a-day care and you have to have a pharmacy and all the other things that go with a hospital and your census runs at just minute number of patients then I think it’s time to look at the fact that maybe they need to go to regional hospitals,” said Cooper, who wouldn’t specify which communities she was referring to.

Gov. Nathan Deal has said the state can’t afford expansion, despite the federal government covering the vast majority of its cost. Last week, he reiterated his opposition, but said he’s open to offering short-term cash infusions to struggling hospitals.

Meanwhile, the state’s major hospital lobbying groups argue expansion is critical for the health system’s long-term stability. They note a designated stream of federal funding for low-income patients is being phased-out as part of the health reform law. They say expansion funds are needed to offset the loss.

UPDATE: Similar statements are coming from Republican leaders in the Tennessee Legislature.

In response to concerns  that failure to expand Medicaid will cause rural hospitals to close, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said that’s just how the free market is supposed to work.

“In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen,” he said. “But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell agreed.

“There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said this week he won’t seek to expand Medicaid. That could affect up to 181,000 low-income Tennesseans, according to TennCare. 

Nebraska’s Domina to Run for Senate. Democrat David Domina, a Nebraska attorney with strong ties to independent agriculture, is running for the U.S. Senate. He’ll seek the seat being vacated by Republican Mike Johanns.

Domina is an agriculture and land attorney currently representing the Nebraska landowners who are challenging the Keystone XL pipeline. He also won a “$1.26 billion judgment for cattlemen who accused a large slaughterhouse of manipulating prices,” the Associated Press reports.

The field already includes five candidates. On the Republican side there are Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale, Omaha attorney Bart McLeay, former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University President Ben Sasse. Independent candidate Jim Jenkins is a cattle rancher.

The state Democratic party chairman says he does not expect Domina to face opposition from with the party.

Propane Price Spike. Demand for heating fuel has created a spike in the price of propane in the Midwest and Northeast. The fuel is used to heat about 7 million homes in those areas. The cost is especially hard on rural areas that are not hooked up to natural gas systems, NBC News reports.

Colorado GOP to Reexamine Law That Inspired Secession Movement. Republicans in the Colorado Legislature want to repeal renewable-fuel legislation that contributed to a secession movement among some rural counties last year.

The law, passed by the Legislature in 2013, required utilities to use more renewable fuels in electricity production. The measure angered some rural counties and was linked to referendums in some counties to secede from Colorado and create a 51st state.

Monument to Rural Electrification? The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is raising funds for a memorial to Nebraska Sen. George Norris, “one of rural electrification’s brightest lights.” Norris built the legislation that created the Tennessee Valley Authority and backed other measures that promoted rural electrification during the New Deal.

Best Main Streets. For the past couple years, the media have been obsessed with the Wall Street vs. Main Street trope. The question, though, is WHICH Main Street? Well, lucky for us the Huffington Post has picked 10 towns with fantastic Main Streets, a good starting point for the start of travel season in a few short months.

Fracking in County Parks? Some rural counties in Pennsylvania are embracing oil and gas exploration on public lands as a way to pay the bills. The Associated Press reports on counties that have allowed drilling below county parks and other public lands and are using the resulting royalties to pay for government services.

 

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