U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' HEALTH, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - March 28, 2007)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Oregon for yielding. He has clearly outlined the critical nature of this legislation and its reauthorization from the original Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2005. Out in Oregon, they called it Wyden-Craig; in Idaho, they called it Craig-Wyden. But in reality, it became a lifeline for the rural communities that since 1908 had become increasingly dependent upon the revenues that flowed from our public lands. In fact, on and after May 23, 1908--and I am quoting specifically from the law--``25 per centum of all moneys received during any fiscal year from each national forest shall be paid at the end of such year by the Secretary of the Treasury to the State or the territory'' in which that money was generated for the purpose of it flowing down to, it very specifically says, ``public schools, public roads of the county or counties in which such national forests are situated.''
During the decade of the eighties, we reduced the allowable cut on our forested lands by nearly 80 percent. What Senator Wyden and I recognized at that time--we had counties in near bankruptcy--as a result of that, in 2000, we passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. That act expired on September 30, 2006. Whom did it impact? It impacted 700 counties, 4,400 school districts in 39 States, 8 million schoolkids, and approximately 15,000 miles of roads.
We knew that probably the formula would have to change, and the Senator from Oregon and I have worked mightily on that issue. He offered a reauthorization of the old formula. I finally offered a 1-year extension. We were able to get the funding for a 1-year extension in the underlying vehicle, but as a result of all of that work, a new formula, a compromise, has come to be that the Senator brought to the floor as an amendment yesterday to this bill.
This is a formula which takes us out to 2012. It is a formula which stabilizes these communities. It is also a package that extends and improves the PILT, or the payment in lieu of taxes, to these large, federally dominated rural counties. It is awfully important to remember that point.
A lot of folks east of the Mississippi don't recognize sometimes that we have counties that are 80 percent and 90 percent public lands. They have no fee-simple private land base from which to fund their public needs and facilities. Yet those are the very lands on which people love to come and recreate. People from the East love to go out there and recreate. They can get hung up on a cliff somewhere and they can't get down, so local search and rescue has to get a helicopter for $10,000 and pluck them off a cliff. And who pays for it? They have enjoyed their recreational experience on the public land, but it is the county and the private funding resource that has to pay for it.
So the extension of PILT, in combination with what we are doing to sustain our rural schools and counties and their roads and bridges, is absolutely critical.
It is why we created PILT years ago. It is why, when Teddy Roosevelt asked the American people to create Federal reserves, he wanted to tie the communities of interest to the Federal reserves, and out of it came the 25-percent formula that I just quoted. The extension of that is critical in western rural public land, timber, and U.S.-forest-land-dominated States. It is not, however, just in the West. Other States across the country recognize it, from the East to the South; as I said, 700 counties, 4,400 school districts, 39 States, with 8 million kids.
What does it mean in some districts? It means a third of their budget, gone. Can you raise that much revenue in a local area? Probably not. So the reality of what we are doing is important, it is very necessary, and I thank my colleague from Oregon for persisting in working with us on this formula and developing what is a new approach, probably more balanced and sustainable in the long run than what the old, original bill was, in recognition that times have changed and we need to adjust and change to them.
Let me close with this one thought--48 million kids and their education. That need has not changed, and that is why we are on the floor of the Senate today insisting that this be a part of this supplemental emergency funding program to assure the stability of those rural school districts and those rural counties.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, the Senator from Oregon has spoken well to this issue. It is critical we vote now, that we vote for the amendment offered by the Senator from Oregon and reject the amendment of the Senator from North Carolina for micromanaging a decision that ought to be made at the local school district level when it comes to the allocation of these resources. The Federal Government and this Senate should not be telling the local school district in Nezperce, ID, or in a county such as Idaho County, ID: Here is how you are going to spend your money. We know better than the local school district or the local patrons of that district.
I hope you vote no on Burr and support the bipartisan amendment.
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