May 28, 2019

Senators to Lead Rally for Secure Rural Schools Legislation

Crapo, Wyden, Risch join county, school leaders at Statehouse

Boise, ID – U.S. Senators Mike Crapo, Ron Wyden and James E. Risch will lead a news conference Thursday on the Idaho Statehouse Steps to announce the reintroduction of federal legislation creating a lasting endowment for forested counties through the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. 

The SRS program provides much-needed financial certainty for rural counties to ensure they have the long-term funding needed for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services. 

The senators will discuss the new SRS legislation in front of a school bus backdrop and will be joined by leaders from Idaho’s schools, counties, industry and restoration groups, in addition to Idaho State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth, who coordinates distribution of the funds. 

News Conference and Statehouse Steps Rally: 

Thursday, May 30, 12:30 PM, Idaho Statehouse South Steps 

  • Idaho State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth
  • Senator Mike Crapo
  • Senator Ron Wyden
  • Senator James E. Risch
  • Basin School Superintendent Brian Hunicke, Idaho City
  • Gordon Cruickshank, Valley County Commissioner, Board Member for the National Association of Counties
  • Wayne Butts, Custer County Commissioner, Chair, Public Lands Steering Committee, Idaho Association of Counties
  • Tim Freeman, Douglas County, Oregon Commissioner
  • Mark Bennett, Baker County, Oregon Commissioner
  • Tom Schultz, VP, Idaho Forest Group
  • Rick Tholen, Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership Board Member 

The bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, which the senators, including Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, first introduced in December 2018, makes the Secure Rural Schools program—which expired at the end of FY 2018—permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services. 

“It is time to create a permanent, lasting program for Idaho counties and schools surrounded by tax-exempt federal lands,” Crapo said. “A long-term endowment assisted by forest products receipts would ensure certainty for parents, students and those traveling Idaho’s roads and bridges.” 

“For too long, active forest management has not been made a priority, SRS payments have been unreliable, and Idaho's rural counties have paid the price,” Risch said. "These communities deserve a long-term solution that enables them to provide critical county services, and this legislation helps restore predictability while investing in county projects and timber management.” 

“This is a matter of making sure Oregonians living and working in rural counties have the financial certainty they need and deserve,” Wyden said. “It’s time to put an end to the financial roller coaster in forested counties in Oregon and permanently invest in our teachers, law enforcement officers, bridges and roads.” 

“One of Oregon’s many treasures is our vast swaths of public lands,” Merkley said. “Since they’re not part of the local tax base, the counties that contain those lands deserve permanent, consistent support from the federal government to fund basic necessities like schools, law enforcement, and infrastructure. I’m urging my colleagues to fulfill this essential commitment to every family in our rural communities without delay.” 

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act—originally co-authored by Wyden—was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Since then, Wyden, Crapo, Merkley and Risch have worked to give SRS a more permanent role in assisting rural counties with large tracts of federal lands. 

Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part with a 25 percent share of timber receipts from federal U.S. Forest Service lands and a 50 percent share of timber receipts from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As those revenues have fallen or fluctuated due to reduced timber harvest and market forces, SRS payments helped bridge the gap to keep rural schools open, provide road maintenance, support search and rescue efforts and other essential county services. Since enacted in 2000, SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states to fund schools and essential services like roads and public safety. 

In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties as they budget for basic county services. The senators’ Forest Management for Rural Stability Act ends the uncertainty and provides rural counties financial security. 

Legislative text can be found here. A one-page summary of the bill can be found here and a longer summary of the bill can be found here

Valley County, Idaho Commissioner and National Association of Counties’ West region representative Gordon Cruickshank: “The Secure Rural Schools program helps counties and school districts deliver essential services like education, roads and bridges, wildfire prevention and environmental stewardship. Federal policies have resulted in significant declines in timber revenue, leaving hundreds of counties susceptible to dramatic budgetary shortfalls. We applaud Senators Crapo and Wyden for their efforts to fulfill the federal government’s long-standing commitment to forest counties and provide the long-term certainty we need to serve our residents.” 

Association of Oregon and California Counties President and Douglas County, Oregon Commissioner Tim Freeman: “We are truly grateful to Senator Wyden for his continuing efforts to stabilize county funding for essential public services. For counties in western Oregon that had the rug pulled out from under them by loss of shared federal timber receipts, this bill will be a lifesaver.” 

Baker County, Oregon Commissioner Mark Bennett: “Senators Wyden and Crapo have demonstrated longstanding bipartisan leadership in the support for the Secure Rural Schools funding. This federal program is critical to the schools, counties and our communities providing direct funds for roads, law enforcement, search and rescue and fire operations on federal lands performed by the counties. Without this funding, these critical activities would be curtailed or the financial burden borne by the financially strapped counties.” 

Idaho Forest Group Chairman & CEO Marc Brinkmeyer: “I appreciate the efforts of both Senator Crapo and Senator Wyden to provide increased certainty to counties that rely on Secure Rural Schools funding. Active forest management is critical to providing both economic and ecologic vitality to rural communities in the West, and the endowment is one way that a thriving timber industry directly and positively impacts these communities.” 

###