April 04, 2007

Oregon Senators Press for County Payments

As rural communities are forced to scale back on government services, Senators Wyden and Smith urge the Administration to honor its commitments.

Washington, D.C. - As the White House prepares to issue its yearly budget request to Congress, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) today asked the Administration to include funding for an extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, commonly known as the county payments law.

The letter, addressed to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Rob Portman, detailed the severity of the situation facing Oregon's rural communities including public schools shifting to four-day school weeks, library closures, the lay-off of county sheriff's deputies and the elimination of vital search and rescue operations.

Despite the Administration's August 2006 commitment to help enact a one-year fully-funded extension of the county payments safety-net, the law was allowed to expire last September.

"The Administration must understand how vital these funds are for rural communities. Without this funding, children will be denied educational opportunity, rural commerce will suffer and public safety will decline." Wyden said. "There is no issue more important to the life and future of rural communities than funding county payments."

"Educating the Administration and other Senators is critical to extending the program," Smith said. "Too many colleagues don't understand the dire circumstances the courts and past presidents created in Oregon's forests. We are going to keep up the pressure. Until we can resolve these problems, Oregon is going to need county payments. "

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 established a six-year payment formula for counties that receive revenue sharing payments for the United States Forestry Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Based on historical timber receipts, the formula established a stable source of revenue to be used for education, roads and various other county services in rural areas.

The text of the Senator's letter to OMB is below:

The Honorable Rob Portman
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20503

Dear Director Portman:

As Oregon's representatives in the United States Senate, we are writing to urge your greatest attention to an issue that is of critical importance to rural communities in our state.

With the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 last year, many Oregon communities are bracing for severe cut-backs in public services. Prior to passage of the Act in 2000, many of Oregon's schools were forced into four-day weeks and into either curtailing or eliminating a number of important student activities. Now, library closures, the lay-off of county sheriff's deputies and the elimination of vital search and rescue operations are but a few of the additional consequences facing rural areas of Oregon that have historically depended on revenue sharing from the now nearly dormant federal timber sale program.

Members of both parties from the House and Senate have worked with representatives of OMB, USDA and DOI to find mutually agreed upon offsets for a one-year extension of the county payments safety net at its current funding level. Such discussions followed the August 7, 2006 letter from Mark Rey, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, committing to work with us to reauthorize the program last year. While productive, those deliberations did not produce the funds our counties need.

We hope that the Administration recognizes the severity of the situation facing counties and school districts in Oregon and across the country, and that such concern is reflected in the Administration's budget request to Congress in the coming weeks.


Gordon H. Smith Ron Wyden
United States Senate United States Senate