Merkley Announces Legislation to Lay Groundwork for Sustainable Revenue for Oregon Counties

Washington, DC – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today
introduced his first piece of legislation: a bill aimed at finding a
sustainable, long-term solution to the revenue problems faced by Oregon’s
timber-dependent counties. Merkley’s bill, co-sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden,
would establish a Task Force to determine the best way to provide counties with
a dependable source of revenue after the current county payments program

“I promised last year that county payments would be the
subject of my first bill because addressing this issue is essential to the
long-term success of Oregon’s rural counties,” said Merkley. “Thanks to the
hard work of Senator Wyden and our congressional delegation, payments are in
place for the next two years. But we need to start preparing for what happens

[Audio of
Senator Merkley’s comments is available here

Merkley’s legislation, the Sustainable Revenue for Oregon
Counties Act of 2009, establishes a 15 member Task Force to develop specific
proposals for long-term, stable revenue for Oregon counties. The task force
would include representatives from affected counties, the timber industry,
environmental organizations, Native American tribes, organized labor, and the
governor’s office as well as recognized experts in fields including natural
resource economics, sustainable forestry and biodiversity and habitat
management. The Task Force would be required to take public comments into
consideration and report on those comments in their final findings.

Nine months after the bill is passed, the Task Force will
recommend at least two proposals to provide long-term budget stability for
timber counties. To ensure consensus, the plans will have to be endorsed by at
least three-fifths of the members of the Task Force. Congress will then be
required to hold hearings on the recommended proposals.

“Some might wonder why, only a few short months after
Congress passed my county payments legislation, we are working on legislation
once again. But the reality is that the four additional years of county
payments we just enacted will pass very quickly, and Jeff is showing enormous
leadership by beginning the hard work now to take on the difficult challenges
ahead. It is great to have a son of Douglas County as a partner in fighting for
county payments,” said Senator Wyden.

“I applaud Sen. Merkley for his work on this legislation.
It’s crucial for our counties that we get a head start on this issue,” said Joe
Laurance, Douglas County Commissioner.

“Letting county payments end after 2011 would leave gaping
holes in county budgets. We can’t let that happen,” said Merkley. “What my
bill does is bring together all of the key parties to figure out what the future
should look like.”

Last month, Senators Merkley and Wyden successfully pushed
for the inclusion of a county payments reserve fund in the Senate version of the
federal budget. That move will help clear procedural hurdles for consideration
of any legislation dealing with county payments, including the bill Merkley
introduced today. Both senators are currently working on ensuring the reserve
fund remains in the final budget passed by Congress.

Audio of Senator Merkley’s comments on the bill is available here: