November 28, 2018

Crapo, Wyden Lead Bipartisan Call to Reauthorize Secure Rural Schools Funding in Year End Legislation

Citing the importance of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today led a bipartisan call with 23 of their Senate colleagues calling for a one-year reauthorization of the program in any year-end funding measures. 

“Over the last nearly two decades, SRS has been a critical lifeline for over 775 counties in over 40 states across the country by helping fund more than 4,400 schools, road maintenance, law enforcement, and search and rescue operations,” the Senators wrote in their letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), adding, “Congress has an obligation to ensure counties with swaths of tax-exempt forestlands can adequately provide essential services for their residents.” 

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was first introduced in 2000 to assist counties containing tracts of federally-owned land that is tax-exempt.  Earlier this month, Crapo and Wyden introduced stand-alone legislation to extend SRS by one year.  It is hoped that Senate leadership will include that measure in its year-end funding proposal. 

The senators added, “As we work to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization of at least one year is critical to provide fiscal certainty for forested counties.”

The letter is also signed by Idaho Senator Jim Risch and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, along with senators Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) Bennett (D-Colorado), Booker (D-New Jersey), Boozman (R-Arkansas), Cantwell (D-Washington),  Capito (R-West Virginia), Daines (R-Montana), Feinstein (D-California), Gardner (R-Colorado), Harris (D-California), Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Manchin (D-West Virginia), Murray (D-Washington), Peters (D-Michigan), Rounds (R-South Dakota), Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Sullivan (R-Alaska),  Tester (D-Montana), and Wicker (R-Mississippi). 

The full text of the letter is included below and available here online

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader, U.S. Senate
U.S. Capitol, S-230
Washington, DC  20510 

The Honorable Charles Schumer
Minority Leader, U.S. Senate
U.S. Capitol, S-221
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

We strongly urge the inclusion of at least a one-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS), which enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, in any end-of-the-year legislation.

Historically, the federal government shared with county governments 25 percent of timber harvest revenues from federal Forest Service lands and 50 percent of timber harvest revenues from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These payments constituted a significant source of funding for rural, forested counties. However, due to declining timber sales, Congress first passed SRS in 2000 to provide a measure of compensation for counties containing tracts of federally owned forestlands that is tax-exempt.

Over the last nearly two decades, SRS has been a critical lifeline for over 775 counties in over 40 states across the country by helping fund more than 4,400 schools, road maintenance, law enforcement, and search and rescue operations.  However, the most recent SRS reauthorization expired at the end of the last fiscal year, which means the last authorized payments to counties will go to participating states and counties in early calendar year 2019.

Congress has an obligation to ensure counties with swaths of tax-exempt forestlands can adequately provide essential services for their residents. Without the certainty of these critical safety-net payments, schools, libraries, and jails are closing. Schools that remain open will see a reduction of teachers. Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas.

As we work to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization of at least one year is critical to provide fiscal certainty for forested counties. 

In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you include a reauthorization of Secure Rural schools in any end-of-the-year package. We appreciate your assistance with this matter. 

 

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