December 13, 2018

Wyden, Crapo Introduce Legislation to Provide Much-Needed Certainty for Secure Rural Schools Program

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, today introduced legislation to provide much-needed financial certainty for rural counties to ensure they have the long-term funding needed for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services.

The bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act makes the Secure Rural Schools program—which expired at the end of FY 2018—permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.

“Without a permanent fiscal solution, forested counties in Oregon and across the country will continue to slide into financial uncertainty. Oregonians will continue to be left with fewer teachers and law enforcement officers, forced to close libraries, and unable to repair broken bridges and roads,” said Wyden. “This bipartisan, bold approach will finally end the financial roller coaster and provide Oregonians living and working in rural counties the security they need and deserve.”

“Establishing a growing endowment for the Secure Rural Schools program will end the need for short-term or retroactive reauthorizations of this program.” said Crapo. “The Secure Rural Schools program has become vital in budgeting for essential services in Idaho’s forested counties with large tracts of tax-exempt federal lands. This endowment will stabilize the program for generations and maintain the important link between economic growth and forest management in our forested counties, while ending the perpetual temporary band-aids that create instability and uncertainty. In the coming year, I will work with Senator Wyden to advance and refine today’s proposal by gathering the input of other stakeholders and our Senate colleagues. The Secure Rural Schools program is important to dozens of states and this proposal should receive strong, bipartisan support.”

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS)—originally co-authored by Wyden—was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands.

Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part with a 25 percent share of timber receipts from federal U.S. Forest Service lands, and a 50 percent share of timber receipts from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As those revenues have fallen or fluctuated due to reduced timber harvest and market forces, SRS payments helped bridge the gap to keep rural schools open, provide road maintenance, support search and rescue efforts and other essential county services.

In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties as they budget for basic county services. Wyden and Crapo’s Forest Management for Rural Stability Act ends the uncertainty and provides rural counties financial security.

Legislative text can be found here. A one-page summary of the bill can be found here and a longer summary of the bill can be found here.

Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader, President, Association of Oregon Counties: “This is an important bill for all of Oregon’s counties, especially our rural communities. Senators Wyden and Crapo have been working diligently on this bill for over a year with input from many interest groups, including AOC. The result is a well thought out bill that will help stabilize funding for counties and schools.”

Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank: “For years Idaho’s forest counties have faced economic uncertainty due to changing federal land management practices and declining forest payments to counties and schools. Senator Crapo’s efforts will help stabilize funding for rural highways and schools. We applaud the Senator for his efforts to ensure stable forest payments to counties and schools.”

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman, President, Association of Oregon and California Counties: “This is a big step forward. We are grateful to Senator Wyden for taking the lead and proposing this important measure"

Custer County Commissioner and Idaho Association of Counties Public Lands Committee Chairman Wayne Butts: “Ninety-three percent of land in Custer County is under federal managed and exempt from property taxation. Counties and schools like ours can’t operate without federal forest payments.”

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens, Co-Chair, Association of Oregon Counties Natural Resources Steering Committee: “Counties need some certainty when we do our budgeting. The bill would give us more certainty and would also give us a broader latitude in how to spend the money we receive. For counties with National Forests, 85% of the payments would be used for traditional purposes of funding for roads and schools; 15% would be chosen from a list broad enough that every county would have local needs that could be addressed with those funds. Congress should move quickly to make Senator Wyden’s vision a reality.”

Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt: “While this bill isn’t a substitute for improving the management of neglected forest lands in Idaho, it is a necessary step in stabilizing federal forest payments to Idaho counties and schools. Federal forest payments fund vital local services including safe roads, search and rescue, and public education. We are grateful to Senator Crapo for taking the lead in working on this important issue.”

Lake County Commissioner Dan Shoun: “We are overwhelmed by the commitment and vision of our Senator Ron Wyden in his introduction of the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act! This legislative bill is the single greatest, long term answer to what counties have hoped for but never allowed ourselves to believe could be accomplished! The financial stability that this will provide to counties in Oregon and numerous other counties in over 40 states, is truly monumental! Never before have county governments been so assured of the true partnership with the federal government of this shared financial responsibility for how we fund essential services that our citizens need! Senator Wyden has long understood this commitment to counties and has been the national leader in finding the best way of holding up the federal governments promise, beginning with the original Secure Rural Schools Act back in the early 2000s and the reauthorization of this throughout the years. This new Forest Management for Rural Stability Act will provide for permanent annual payments of a known amount to each and every county with forested public lands within their borders! We as counties owe Senator Ron Wyden our deepest, deepest appreciation and sincerest thanks for his unprecedented leadership in resolving this long standing annual uncertainty!”

Marc Brinkmeyer, Chairman and CEO, Idaho Forest Group: “I appreciate the efforts of both Senator Crapo and Senator Wyden to provide increased certainty to counties that rely on Secure Rural Schools funding. In addition to providing stability to county payments, the bill recognizes the need to maintain a link to active forest management, which is critical to providing both economic and ecologic vitality to rural communities in the West.” 

Travis Joseph, President and CEO, American Forest Resource Council: “We are passionate about and committed to the health and safety of the rural communities in which we live and work. We share the goal of Senators Wyden and Crapo to generate permanent, reliable financial support to forested counties in order to provide essential services to all community members - a goal the forest products industry contributes to every day. We appreciate the opportunity to continue working on the bipartisan concept - an endangered species in the Congress - while preserving the critical link between sustainable forest management, jobs, timber volume, and robust local economies.”

Matthew Chase, Executive Director, National Association of Counties: “Counties appreciate the efforts of Senators Crapo and Wyden to ensure stable payments to local governments and support robust economies in rural areas. For years, forest counties have faced fiscal uncertainty due to federal regulations that reduce timber harvests on federal lands and the unpredictable annual appropriations process. The Forest Management for Rural Stability Act will create greater revenue stability for counties and new tools for forest management. Counties urge Congress to act on this legislation as soon as possible.”

Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations, National Education Association: “We need an all of the above approach to securing the future of rural schools and communities. We urge Congress to extend funding for Secure Rural Schools before the end of the year. In addition, NEA supports bipartisan approaches that offer fresh ways of looking at how to help schools and communities near federal forests have the financial security they have long been promised.”