This morning, conferees on the House-Senate surface transportation bill announced that the final negotiated legislation includes the one-year $346 million extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act -- commonly known as the country payments law -- that passed the U.S. Senate March 14. More than $100 million of the $346 million goes to 33 of Oregon's 36 counties.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who authored the original county payments law and who led efforts both to pass the legislation and keep it in the transportation conference report, issued the following statement:
"This is the fourth time since I wrote the original county payments law in 2000 that Congress has come down on the side of schools, roads and law enforcement in rural, natural-resource dependent counties. Maintaining the federal government's historic obligation to rural Oregon and to rural America has always been my top legislative priority. The conference committee decision to include this extension means that this vital program will continue. $100 million to help stem the tide of layoffs, cutbacks and reductions in vital services in hard-hit rural communities could simply not have come at a better time."
The Senate-passed amendment included in the final legislation provides for a one-year extension of the program to cover payments to be issued as part of Fiscal Year 2012. It will include a 5 percent ramp-down from the FY 2011 amount resulting in payments totaling $346 million nationwide in FY 2012. Oregon will receive $102 million during that time frame.
Wyden authored the original Secure Rural Schools legislation and wrote the legislation extending the program in both 2007 and 2008. He led the effort earlier this year that resulted in the Senate passing the one-year extension of the county payments program by a vote of 82 to 16. And last month he led 25 senators in sending a letter to conferees that ensured the lifeline for rural communities would remain in the final legislation. The House and Senate are expected to pass the conference report by the end of the week.