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Washington’s fair share?

Lots of lawmakers in Washington complain the rich don’t pay their “fair share.” Such petty gripes conveniently ignore the fact that Uncle Sam is the country’s richest land baron — and its biggest piker when it comes to property taxes.

The federal government owns about 28 percent of the land in the United States. In Nevada, Washington controls a staggering 86 percent of the acreage. Yet Congress gets no property tax bills for Washington’s holdings — it drops loose change on the locals, then boasts about its benevolence.

Earlier this month, the Interior Department finalized its checks under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lauded Nevada’s share of the take this year: a whopping $23.3 million. “At a time when unemployment continues to hurt our state’s economic growth, I am pleased this funding will help save and create so many jobs,” Sen. Reid said in a news release.

Please. The state didn’t get enough money to build a single freeway interchange or middle school. The payments to Nevada amount to a net property tax bill of about 40 cents per acre per year. The federal workforce charged with “managing” most of the state’s land costs Nevada taxpayers much more. Clark and Washoe counties received a little more than $3 million apiece, while massive Nye County got $2.8 million. The smallest check went to Storey County: $34,943.

Other states fared much better with PILT handouts. That Sen. Reid is not terribly effective at bringing home the bacon is irrelevant, however. The problem isn’t that Washington doesn’t pay enough for its land. It’s that Washington has too much land in the first place, and should be transferring much of it to local control. Especially in Nevada, a lack of privately owned land limits economic growth and puts a ceiling on the property tax rolls.

Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed Assembly Bill 227, which created the Nevada Land Management Task Force. The panel will make recommendations on the transfer of federal land to the state and push Congress to start doing so by 2015. This cause is vital to the state’s future.

Give up your land, Uncle Sam.

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