December 06, 2006

Wyden addresses national coalition,continues drumbeat for county payments

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today called on Congress and the Administration to make a fully-funded, long-term extension of the county payments law a top priority in the year ahead. Wyden's remarks came at a speech before the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition conference in Washington, D.C., today.

"We need to remind the rest of Congress and the Administration how much these funds mean to rural communities - for schools, for roads, and for basic county operations," Wyden said. "Losing county payments would be a crippling blow for the infrastructure of rural counties."

In early August, Wyden and U.S. Senators Gordon Smith and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) secured a commitment from the Administration to work to enact a one-year, fully-funded extension of county payments funding. That one-year extension would provide up to $401 million nationally for 700 rural counties in more than 40 states.

"Even as we work toward a one-year extension, we know this is not a long-term solution. Rural communities deserve guaranteed full funding for future years," Wyden said. "Drastic cuts to county payments funding would return rural counties to the roller coaster of uncertainty, characterized by the years of ups and downs when county budgets hinged on the dwindling federal timber harvest."

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, originally authored by Wyden and Craig in 2000, provides vital, stable funding for rural schools, roads and services across the nation. The current law will expire at the end of this month; the one-year extension announced in August will allow more time for Congress and the Administration to develop a long-term solution.

"Governing is often about priorities. We all know that we struggle with ever-tightening budgets and growing federal deficits, but we also know our rural counties deserve to be a priority," Wyden said. "I'm committed to working with this national coalition to convince the Administration and any doubters in Congress that finding funding for this legislation deserves to be a top priority."