Join 23 other Senators and 53 members of Congress in bipartisan, bicameral letter to President
WASHINGTON – Citing the stress on many rural county budgets, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined 78 of their colleagues in sending a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calling on it to provide funding for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in the President’s upcoming budget request that will be submitted to Congress.
SRS payments are vital to many rural budgets as these payments often pay for school programs and personnel like nurses, and for other education services. These payments are made instead of taxes on lands that are tax-exempt but managed by the federal government.
“Idaho’s counties are doing the best they can to manage funding for local schools, roads, bridges, forest management projects and public safety priorities,” said Crapo. “Secure Rural School payments are critical to ensure that counties across Idaho and the nation are paid for the tax-exempt, federally-managed lands within the state.”
“Until we see a significant increase in active forest management on our national forests, the federal government must uphold its commitment to support our rural counties and schools who rely on the SRS program,” said Senator Risch.
Text of the letter follows:
As the Office of Management and Budget begins its work to set priorities for fiscal year 2018 and write the President’s budget request, we strongly encourage you to support adequate funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination (SRS) program. SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting nine million students across 41 states. In many cases, these “forest counties” include massive swaths of public lands, particularly National Forest System lands, often consuming 65 to 90 percent of total land within their boundaries.
Over 100 years ago, recognizing the key support these counties provide to our national forests, Congress passed legislation to specify that 25 percent of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands would be shared with affected counties for “the benefit of the public schools and public roads in county or counties in which national forests are situated.” Though helpful, massive reductions in timber production on federal forests over the last 30 years has dropped revenues by as much as 99 percent in some counties and over 70 percent nationwide.
SRS was first enacted in 2000 to renew this 100-year-old revenue sharing promise in light of significant losses faced by forest counties as timber revenues declined. This promise is as relevant today as ever given these counties are still expected to provide essential services on their public lands. SRS expired on September 30, 2015, and it has not been reauthorized for FY16 or beyond. Forest counties and schools received their last authorized SRS payment in March 2016. Without SRS, existing revenue sharing payments are not sufficient to support the services these counties must provide, and counties are forced to choose between critical services for their citizens.
Prevailing uncertainties about SRS make it nearly impossible for local governments to plan their annual budgets. The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these forest counties, and we are committed to working in Congress to provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations. We ask that you do all that you can in FY18 and into the future to work with us in this effort.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.