WASHINGTON – Idaho and Oregon congressional leaders are pushing to ensure counties do not lose out on essential services due to federal land ownership. The bipartisan push for reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program is led by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon). The bill would reauthorize the SRS program through September 2022. The program, which helps fund essential services in rural communities home to federal land, expired in September 2020; the last payment under the current authorization is scheduled for April 2021, less than two months from now.
“With the federal government owning two-thirds of Idaho’s land, a missed or delayed SRS payment isn’t just an inconvenience for our rural counties,” Risch said. “It can be a death sentence. We made a commitment to timber communities throughout Idaho and the West, and we have a moral obligation to see it through. Congress must reauthorize SRS.”
“The SRS program is a critical funding stream for many rural communities in Idaho home to large tracts of federal land,” Crapo said. “Nearly two-thirds of Idaho is federally-owned, which severely limits the tax base for law enforcement, schools, and road construction because federal lands contribute no property taxes. Our legislation has strong, bipartisan support and passed out of Committee in the last Congress. It deserves consideration by the full Senate as soon as possible to help these communities have a more predictable source of income. I remain committed to working to find a more permanent solution.”
“Oregonians living and working in rural counties that have absorbed body blows from COVID and wildfires are counting on these resources now for their schools, roads, and other essential services,” Wyden said. “This two-year extension of Secure Rural Schools is an urgently needed must-do while the work continues on a permanent SRS endowment that gets rural counties once and for all off this roller coaster of uncertainty.”
“Our rural communities have been among the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the ongoing coronavirus crisis,” Merkley said. “Those consequences have only been made worse by the fact that many of these towns and counties are losing critical revenue they need to pay their first responders, teachers, and other essential workers at a time when they are needed most. We must fully fund the SRS program, so these communities can access the lifelines they need to get through this pandemic and thrive on the other side.”
In the 116th Congress, Risch, Crapo, Wyden, and Merkley led similar legislation to extend SRS for two years, which was voted out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously. It did not receive consideration on the Senate Floor before the end of the Congress.
Co-sponsors of the legislation include Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Full text of the bill can be found HERE.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Since then, Crapo, Risch Wyden, and Merkley 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.