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Issue Position: County Payments - Keeping America's Promise to Forested Counties

Issue Position

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"The failure of Congress to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act amounts to a breach of faith to more than 600 forested counties across America." - Congressman Greg Walden

THE HISTORY

When the national forests were created a century ago, the federal government recognized that it needed to make a commitment to the people who lived near those lands. In 1908, the federal government began sharing 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 hosted federal land from which timber is cut. These payments were 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. Oregon's county budgets were hit particularly hard.

THE SECURE RURAL SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITY SELF-DETERMINATION ACT

In 2000, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was enacted into law to remedy this imbalance. It established a six-year payment formula for counties that receive revenue-sharing payments for USFS and BLM lands. The formula provided a stable source of revenue to be used for education, roads and county services in rural areas. The "safety net" amount was based on historical timber receipts.

The act expired in September 2006, and without prompt reauthorization and funding, approximately 4,400 school districts in 615 counties in 39 states will have essential federal funding severed. Oregon alone receives nearly $280 million a year from the funding.

KEEPING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S PROMISE

Congressman Walden and Congress Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced a bill (H.R. 17) on Jan. 4, the first day of the 110th Congress, to reauthorize the act for seven years. They will pursue every avenue possible to renew this desperately-needed funding to Oregon's counties.

To highlight the importance of the federal government's commitment to timbered communities, Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is delivering a series of 18 speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives to explain the dire consequences facing counties in Oregon's second Congressional district should the "county payment" funding not be renewed. The text and video of those speeches can be found a little bit further down on this page.

Congressmen Walden and DeFazio also held a one-hour special order speech on the House floor on February 12 to discuss the urgency of the situatiuon. Video of Rep. Walden's opening remarks to the special order can be found below. A transcript of the special order, which included remarks from a bipartisan group of members from the Northwest, can be found in the Congressional Record here.


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