President’s Budget Includes Funding for County Payments Program

Washington, D.C. – As President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2012 budget this morning, members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation announced that it includes $328 million to fund the first of a multi-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, commonly known as “county payments.”  The Oregon members recognized that this is only one step in their long-term effort to ensure that county payments will continue to provide a stable source of funding for Oregon’s historically timber dependent communities, but said the President’s budgetary commitment to reauthorize the program “clears a major hurdle.”

“Make no mistake, while today’s budget is slashing and eliminating hundreds of government programs, having the President single out county payments for reauthorization is a very good sign for Oregon’s timber dependent communities,” Wyden said. “However, some of the President’s proposed cuts go too far.  It’s not enough to just reauthorize county payments.  A sustainable level of funding is part of the federal government’s historic commitment to these communities and local governments need more than a short term extension if they are ever going to get off the fiscal rollercoaster.  Securing a stable source of funding for Oregon’s rural counties remains my number one priority and I will be working with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to get it done.”

“Today’s budget brings good news for Oregon communities that depend on county payments,” Merkley said.  “The inclusion of funding for county payments in the budget is a huge first step for funding this critical commitment to America’s timber communities.  I’m glad the president recognized the importance of developing a steady means of funding local schools, public safety, and other local needs in rural, timber-dependent communities.  I will pursue all available avenues to ensure that the federal government honors this vital contract with Oregon’s communities.”

“President Obama’s nod to Secure Rural Schools in his FY12 budget is good news.  Given the tremendous pressure to cut the budget, and the fact that the President’s budget cut $1.1 trillion in spending over the next ten years and eliminated 200 programs, this is a positive step,” DeFazio said.  “But a 10% reduction in the current funding levels means that rural Oregon counties will need to make serious cuts in funding for rural schools, law enforcement and other essential county services. Even more problematic is that the President’s budget doesn’t identify a funding source for county payments. Under the new Republican budget rules, this funding level can only be procured or achieved by making cuts in other programs.  I am pleased the President opened the door for further discussion on a long-term solution for rural Oregon communities as he promised during the campaign.”

“Against all odds, in this difficult budget climate, the hard work of our delegation paid off,” said Schrader. “We will continue to work as a delegation to make sure our colleagues understand that this program is critical for many rural Oregon communities. It means jobs, keeps schools open, roads maintained, and upholds a century-long commitment that Congress made to rural America. While the President’s budget doesn’t give us everything our counties need, it’s an important step toward helping rural Oregon communities keep their doors open.”

The President’s proposed budget includes a five year extension of the county payments program which has helped fund county services in 41 states where the federal government owns a significant amount of land.  The President’s proposal includes a 20 percent cut to the portion of funding that states receive directly under Title I with additional cuts expected to be made gradually in subsequent years.  The proposal would also – after three years — eliminate funding for states that receive less than $10 million a year and proposes changing the program’s budgetary distinction from mandatory to discretionary.   

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, originally authored by Wyden and U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) in 1999, established a six-year payment formula for counties that receive revenue-sharing payments from the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Based in part on historical timber receipts, the formula established a stable source of revenue to be used for education, roads and various other county services in rural areas. Over 700 counties in 41 states have received funding under the original county payments law, which was allowed to expire in September 2006.  After a protracted fight with the Bush Administration, the program was reauthorized in 2008, but without reauthorization is set to expire in 2012.