Financial bailout bill includes timber payments
DALY, Capital Press 10/3/08
(AP) -- The financial rescue plan signed by President Bush on
Friday extends a program that pays rural counties hurt by federal
Senators inserted the timber provision as one of several
sweeteners to attract more votes for the bailout bill, which the
House approved on Friday, two days after the Senate.
The four-year, $3.3 billion extension of the timber program was
especially welcome in the West. Lawmakers from both parties have
been trying for years to renew it.
The law, officially titled the Secure Rural Schools and Community
Self-Determination Act, is commonly known as "county payments." It
provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Oregon, Idaho and
other states, mostly in the West, that once depended on federal
timber sales to pay for schools, libraries and other services in
rural areas. In all, payments go to 700 counties in 39 states.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who co-sponsored the original timber
payments law in 2000 and played a key role in its renewal, hailed
the program's extension, which came after a series of votes in the
House and Senate that alternately passed and rejected the program.
"Oregon communities can finally breathe a sigh of relief," Wyden
Wyden voted against the bailout bill but asked Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid to include the timber provision, which also was
backed by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance
Committee, and a host of Western lawmakers.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources
Committee, called the program's extension a significant victory
for rural America. Many rural areas in his state and across the
nation are "struggling under the weight of economic hardship and
have been on the brink of slashing essential services such as
schools, law enforcement and other critical local infrastructure,"
said Rahall, whose state gets about $2 million a year under the
Under a new formula approved Friday, Oregon will continue to
receive the largest share of timber payments - about $254 million
in the current budget year - followed by California ($63 million)
Washington ($43 million), Idaho ($43 million) and Montana ($32
Eric Schmidt, a spokesman for the Oregon Association of Counties,
called extension of the timber law "a day of great elation." But
he added: "It's a bridge, not a bailout."
Thirty-three of Oregon's 36 counties get some timber money,
Schmidt said, and many have taken drastic steps - including firing
sheriff's deputies and releasing prisoners - to meet budget
shortfalls caused by the delay in timber payments.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski called passage of the bill "a lifeline
that Congress has thrown to Oregon. It was badly needed."
Associated Press writers Brad Cain and Tim Fought in Oregon
contributed to this story.