TIMBER-DEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICTS -- (Senate - September 23, 2008)
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, while I think most of us have been focused on H.R. 6049, as amended by the Senate, primarily on the tax extenders and some of the energy tax credits and provisions that we believe are critically important to our economy and to the American business sector that is, by any measure, having difficulty at the moment, something is also in this legislation that is phenomenally important to timber-dependent school districts throughout the United States but dominantly in the Pacific Northwest.
That is a provision called the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program.
Now, if I were in Oregon, I would call it the Wyden-Craig bill. If I am in Idaho, I call it the Craig-Wyden bill. It is legislation that both Senator Wyden and I, a good number of years ago, fashioned when I was chairing the Forestry and Public Lands Subcommittee and he was my ranking member, when we came to the Senate and said we have the rural schools of our timber-dependent communities and counties in crisis.
Through the decade of the 1990s, we saw a dramatic reduction in the allowable cut of timber on our public land forests for a variety of reasons. As a result, a 1908 policy, established by Gifford Pinchot and President Teddy Roosevelt, said if we are going to create these forest preserves, we have to connect the communities of interest with them. By that, I do not mean the Sierra Club. I mean that little community sitting out in the forest that is trying to make a living off our forests and to supply to its county its roads and bridges and to its citizens its schools. We will give them a piece of the stumpage or the fee the Federal Government is paid by a private logging company to cut that tree and turn it into lumber.
Down through the years, we did just that. We financed many of our counties and many of our schools in these dependent communities largely with the stumpage fee from public timber. In some counties, it was 50 or 60 percent of the county budget. In certain counties of Oregon, in the O&C lands of Oregon, it was oftentimes the near whole school budget and oftentimes a very large chunk of the county budget.
Well, when that timber went away, for a lot of different reasons, most of them environmental, so went the money. We saw that as a crisis in our school districts, looked at it, evaluated it, established a formula, came to the Senate, and said: We have to help these school districts that do not have fee land. They do not have private property to tax. They are all public lands.
I say to the Presiding Officer, I have counties in my State that are larger than your entire State, Mr. President, and most of them are 60 or 70 percent public lands. They don't pay taxes, but they produce product. We, a long time ago, nearly 100 years ago, decided that product the Government was selling ought to pay something back to the communities. So we established this legislation, Craig-Wyden. It lived its life. It secured our schools and our communities. It allowed some self-determination. It brought together regional advisory groups, issue groups who were warring amongst each other, and it brought common cause to the public concern on our national forested lands. It was highly successful, but it expired.
In a time of deficits and financial difficulties and finding all of the needed resources we need for our Government, it became very difficult to refinance, to reauthorize this program. I have school districts that were laying off essential educators, canceling programs that would provide for the quality education of the students simply because we could not pass this legislation.
Today, we passed the legislation. Today, we reauthorized, for a period of up to 4 years, this program. It is vastly important to hundreds of school districts across the Nation. When I say the Pacific Northwest--Idaho, Oregon, and Washington--it is Montana, it is California--northern California tremendously--it is Mississippi. I suspect there are a few school districts in the State of Colorado and other places that are highly dependent upon this particular piece of legislation.
So I am here this evening to thank my colleagues for being sensitive to these public land-bound counties that simply do not have fee land to finance their essential needs--roads, bridges, schools--and they cannot ask the other taxpayers to assume their burden outside the counties within the State.
My State anticipated the difficulty of reauthorizing and created some contingency, but still it would not have funded the full school program. So tonight we have acted and sent a very clear message to these counties, to these schools that we take educating the young people of these school districts as a high priority, that we see the vitality of these communities as extremely important.
So tonight, in section 601, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program, we have reauthorized Craig-Wyden. I thank my colleagues for allowing that to happen.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.