The Interior Department announced today that it ultimately disbursed over $14 billion in FY 2013 revenues from mineral leasing on public lands and waters to state, local and tribal governments -- including $130 million to Colorado. Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet called on the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill to ensure that all royalty payments are paid on time in the future. The Return Our State Shares (ROSS) Act would require the Interior Department to make its regularly scheduled royalty payments to states instead of withholding them as part of the sequestration and then returning them in a lump sum at the end of the fiscal year.
"Colorado counties depend on these resources to operate essential government services and we're glad they are receiving record amounts of revenue this year. However, our states and communities should receive their full payments on time. They should not wrongfully be subjected to sequestration," Bennet said.
The mineral leasing revenues are distributed to states and local communities to support local governments and schools and to provide other critical community services. However, as part of the automatic budget cuts commonly referred to as "sequestration," the Interior Department and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have withheld portions of these revenues until the end of the fiscal year despite the fact that the funds are owed to states under law and are not taxpayer dollars pulled from the Treasury. These delays resulted in uncertainty for county governments and other recipients. The ROSS Act would ensure these payments are not subject to sequestration and would continue to be made in a timely manner.
Senator Bennet introduced the ROSS Act earlier this month with Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to remove certain Treasury accounts derived from the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), the RESTORE Act, and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs from sequestration completely, thereby ensuring states receive their full payment at the appropriate time. All of the funds in question are generated from the private sector, passed through the federal government, and are then disbursed to states and other entities on a monthly or regular basis.
"This money is not federal spending, and it is not being used to reduce the deficit. The Senate should quickly pass our bill to ensure that these communities have the resources they need for critical services like public schools, law enforcement, and other important community services," Bennet added.
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Shelby (R-MS), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).