December 06, 2006

White House budget proposes 50% cutto County Payments funding

Administration proposal would cut $650 million from Oregon counties over five years, including $85 million from Oregon classrooms

Portland, Ore. The Administration today released its FY2007 budget plan, which includes a 50 percent funding cut to the successful Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (or county payments). Under the White House proposal, Oregon counties would see a $650 million reduction, including $85 million that currently goes into Oregon classrooms.Governing is about priorities, and this proposal to cut funding to rural counties by 50 percent tells rural Oregon that were not very high on the Administrations priority list, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said. The Administration found billions to fund subsidies for energy company boondoggles, so I have trouble believing they couldnt find the money in this budget environment to maintain support for rural Oregon counties.Of Oregons 36 counties, 33 received payments through the county payments program, totaling almost $280 million last year alone. 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. These payments had been used to help finance rural schools and roads. 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.In 2000, legislation authored by Wyden and U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) to remedy this imbalance was enacted into law, establishing a six-year payment formula for counties that receive revenue-sharing payments for USFS and BLM lands. The formula established a stable source of revenue, a safety net or full payment amount, to be used for education, roads and county services in rural areas. The safety net amount was based on historical timber receipts.If counties elect to use funding for projects on public lands, the projects must be developed by consensus and approved by a Resource Advisory Committee (RAC), a group designed to ensure expanded economic activity for the resource-based communities that benefit from this legislation. RACs are made up of individuals from the local area dedicated to directing a portion of the funds for projects in their respective regions. A county may also choose to use funds for search and rescue, community service work camps, easement purchases, forest-related education opportunities, fire prevention, and community forestry.The county payments law is the most successful forestry law of the last thirty years because for the first time it has brought together counties, timber interests and environmentalists to collaborate on thinning, fire reduction, biofuels and wetlands projects, Wyden said. Today we have collaboration instead of litigation and confrontation. We cant afford to walk away from that.The original county payments law enacted in 2000 is expected to provide more than $1.6 billion in stable funding to Oregon counties over the life of the bill. Members of Oregons Congressional delegation introduced the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Reauthorization Act of 2005 last February, which would reauthorize the law for an additional seven years. Companion bills were introduced in both chambers (S. 267 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 517 in the U.S. House of Representatives).