Oregon lawmakers urge rural county, schools funding

Oregon lawmakers urge rural county, schools funding

Program expired in 2015, not reauthorized since


By:  KTVZ.com News Sources

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., led a bipartisan group of lawmakers Friday in urging Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to include adequate funding for the Secure Rural Schools program in the president’s budget for fiscal year 2018.

Wyden and Bonamici were joined by Oregon lawmakers Sen. Jeff Merkley and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio, along with 76 other members of Congress in a letter to Mulvaney.

“Prevailing uncertainties about SRS make it nearly impossible for local governments to plan their annual budgets,” the members wrote in the letter. “The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these forest counties, and we are committed to working in Congress to provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations. We ask that you do all that you can in FY18 and into the future to work with us in this effort.”

They also wrote, “SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting nine million students across 41 states. In many cases, these ‘forest counties’ include massive swaths of public lands, particularly National Forest System lands, often consuming 65 to 90 percent of total land within their boundaries.”

The SRS program expired on September 30, 2015, and it has not been reauthorized for FY16 or beyond. Forest counties and schools received their last authorized SRS payment in 2016. Without SRS, existing revenue sharing payments are not sufficient to support critical services these counties must provide.

Read the full text of the letter below.

February 17, 2017

Mick Mulvaney

Director

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Mulvaney:

As the Office of Management and Budget begins its work to set priorities for fiscal year 2018 and write the President’s budget request, we strongly encourage you to support adequate funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination (SRS) program. SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting nine million students across 41 states. In many cases, these “forest counties” include massive swaths of public lands, particularly National Forest System lands, often consuming 65 to 90 percent of total land within their boundaries.

Nearly 100 years ago, recognizing the key support these counties provide to our national forests, Congress passed legislation to specify that 25 percent of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands would be shared with affected counties for “the benefit of the public schools and public roads in county or counties in which national forests are situated.” Though helpful, massive reductions in timber production on federal forests over the last 30 years have dropped revenues by as much as 99 percent in some counties and over 70 percent nationwide.

SRS was first enacted in 2000 to renew this 100-year-old revenue sharing promise in light of significant losses faced by forest counties as timber revenues declined. This promise is as relevant today as ever given these counties are still expected to provide essential services on their public lands. SRS expired on September 30, 2015, and it has not been reauthorized for FY16 or beyond. Forest counties and schools received their last authorized SRS payment in March 2016. Without SRS, existing revenue sharing payments are not sufficient to support the services these counties must provide, and counties are forced to choose between critical services for their citizens.

Prevailing uncertainties about SRS make it nearly impossible for local governments to plan their annual budgets. The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these forest counties, and we are committed to working in Congress to provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations. We ask that you do all that you can in FY18 and into the future to work with us in this effort.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,