On Thursday Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation that would ensure counties receiving Secure Rural Schools funds cannot spend federal resources on any activity related to lobbying.
The release from the Senators said their bill is to ensure that SRS funds remained dedicated to their intended purpose of helping rural counties in Oregon and nationwide pay for schools, roads, bridges, law enforcement and other services.
Wyden said “the importance of SRS for rural communities demands that every dollar stays on track for their intended destinations of classrooms, roadways and police stations”. He cited recent reporting by The Oregonian regarding SRS money that he said was misspent on lobbying. An October 25th story in the Oregonian said Douglas County Commissioners had spent at least $43,000 in the last four years to lobby federal officials to increase timber harvests.
Merkley said ‘SRS payments provide a much-needed crucial lifeline for critical services ranging from schools to roads to public safety – and we need to make sure it’s those services, not lobbying, that are funded by these resources”. He said the legislation will help ensure that SRS funds go to fundamental public services that Oregonians rely on.
The release said the bill would also require that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management write regulations for how SRS resources can be spent. The release said the Inspector General has said federal agencies have failed to accomplish that, and it is “long overdue”.
The legislation would require all counties receivng SRS funds to submit an annual report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the BLM summarizing how these resources are spent. The release said both agencies would have to put those reports online, under the legislation.
Wyden and Merkley have also introduced legislation that would provide a short-term reauthorization of SRS, as well as create a longer-term permanent endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.