Washington, D.C. – Senate leaders from Oregon and Idaho are joining together in a long-term reform of the Secure Rural Schools Program. The legislation, introduced today by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and co-sponsored by U.S Senators Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, provides certainty for rural counties to ensure they have the long-term funding needed for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services.
The bipartisan Forest Management for Rural Stability Act 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.
“Rural communities in Idaho rely on SRS payments, and our schools and counties shoulder the greatest burden when active forest management isn’t made a priority, said Senator Risch. “We owe our communities the certainty of a long-term solution. This bipartisan legislation provides that stability and also makes strides to expand the program’s contribution to timber management and local economies.”
“With our county funds stretched thin, this stable funding would provide a much-needed lifeline for critical services in Oregon counties,” Senator Merkley said. “This bipartisan bill provides reliable funding that is crucial to keeping schools and libraries open, maintaining roads, ensuring there are police officers to keep communities safe, managing our forests, and providing mental health resources in rural counties.”
“Establishing a growing endowment for the Secure Rural Schools program will end the need for short-term or retroactive reauthorizations of this program.” said Senator Crapo. “The Secure Rural Schools program has become vital in budgeting for essential services in Idaho’s forested counties with large tracts of tax-exempt federal lands. This endowment will stabilize the program for generations and maintain the important link between economic growth and forest management in our forested counties, while ending the perpetual temporary band-aids that create instability and uncertainty. In the coming year, I will work with Senator Wyden to advance and refine today’s proposal by gathering the input of other stakeholders and our Senate colleagues. The Secure Rural Schools program is important to dozens of states and this proposal should receive strong, bipartisan support.”
“Without a permanent fiscal solution, forested counties in Oregon and across the country will continue to slide into financial uncertainty. Oregonians will continue to be left with fewer teachers and law enforcement officers, forced to close libraries, and unable to repair broken bridges and roads,” said Senator Wyden. “This bipartisan, bold approach will finally end the financial roller coaster and provide Oregonians living and working in rural counties the security they need and deserve.”
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS)—originally co-authored by Wyden—was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Since then, Wyden, Crapo, Risch and Merkley have all 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.
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. Wyden and Crapo’s Forest Management for Rural Stability Act ends the uncertainty and provides rural counties financial security.