County Payments

In 1999, Senator Wyden teamed with Republican Senator Larry Craig to author the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, commonly known as the “county payments” law.  The law honors the federal government’s historic commitment to rural communities where the federal government holds land, establishing a payment formula for counties that had previously received revenue-sharing payments from United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.  Since October 2000, the program has secured more than $2.8 billion dollars for Oregon counties -- keeping teachers in classrooms, Sheriffs on the job and roads in good repair. Wyden secured a one year extension of the program in 2007 and then fought for and won a four-year reauthorization of the program in 2008.  He again secured a one-year extension of the program in 2012.

The most recent reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program will expire at the end of FY2012. Wyden currently is working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus to extend the program for at least another year, while crafting a long-term solution for rural communities.

As Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, one of the first hearings Wyden held was to examine the options for reauthorizing and reforming Secure Rural Schools to get Oregon’s communities off the fiscal roller coaster and put sheriffs back on the roads and teachers in schools.

Recently, the Forest Service, citing sequestration, requested that counties return $18 million in timber payments paid out at the beginning of 2013. Senators Wyden, Merkley & Murkowski have pressed the Forest Service to halt any penalties or fines and work to minimize the impact of mandatory budget cuts on states and counties, calling the threat of repayment deeply concerning.