March 08, 2005

Bush Administration Offers Support Today For Wyden's Bipartisan County Payments Law

Senators call on Administration to work together with Congress to move vital legislation for rural schools, roads forward

Washington, D.C. At a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands today, Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey told U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) that the Bush Administration will support the reauthorization of the bipartisan Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act the county payments law if the cost of the bill can be covered in the Federal budget. The county payments law was written by Wyden and Craig in 2000 to provide a stable source of funding for roads, schools and forest projects in areas where Federal timber receipts were providing fewer and fewer dollars for local initiatives; bipartisan legislation currently before the Senate would reauthorize the widely supported law for the next seven years.This law has produced nothing less than a revolution in forest-dependent communities, and it was critical for the Administration to recognize its success and its importance to the region, said Wyden. When we talk about efforts that can unify us, and not divide us, we dont need to look any further than this legislation. How often do you find the Administration, the Forest County Schools Coalition and the Wilderness Society all testifying on behalf of a natural resources bill?This legislation has a proven track record of giving local residents a voice in forest management, completing projects on the ground, and helping to fund schools and roads, said Craig. I am pleased the Bush Administration recognizes this and will work with Congress to reauthorize it.The president is an important ally in making sure that county payments continue to find their way into Oregon classrooms, said Smith. Timber production is central in our history, and this legislation ensures its legacy is educational improvement and rural investment.In 2000, the original county payments law established a six-year payment formula for counties based on historical timber receipts. Before passage of the county payments law, Oregon counties were receiving payments as the result of 1908 and 1937 laws specifying that the government share 25 percent of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) receipts and 50 percent of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) receipts with counties in any state that hosts Federal land from which timber is cut. Toward the mid- to late-nineties, however, the principal source of those revenues, Federal timber sales, declined by over 70 percent nationwide. Consequently, the corresponding revenues shared with rural counties throughout the country declined precipitously, hurting school and transportation funding.The original county payments law is expected to provide more than $1.6 billion to replace those lost funds to Oregon counties over the life of the bill. The reauthorization should provide similar levels of funding.