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Timber payments hit snag

Efforts to renew federal funding for counties face presidential veto
By Ty Beaver, Herald and News 6/5/08

   Efforts to provide a long-term extension of federal timber payments to Klamath County and other rural Oregon counties hit a snag Wednesday.
   House majority leaders scheduled a vote on a resolution today that would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self Determination Act for another four years.
   “This is the last best chance to a pass a bill with county payments,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
   But Republicans, including U. S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., criticized the legislation. Walden has supported an extension in the past, but said the proposal would violate federal contracts with oil companies and faces a veto threat from President George W. Bush.
   “I can’t think of a time I’ve voted to knowingly violate a contract and I don’t plan to start,” Walden said.
   The congressman said he has an alternative way to pay for the extension and hopes it can be considered.
   Oregon counties received about $ 280 million from the legislation. The money compensated counties which saw a decline in logging because of environmental regulations.
   Klamath County received up to $15 million from the payments in 2007. Congress has struggled to reauthorize the legislation for the past two years. A one-year extension was approved in May 2007.
   Walden said the current proposal involves rewriting federal contracts for oil company leases on federal lands, something that would likely not be legal. It also does not include funding to compensate counties with federally owned, tax-exempt lands.
   Wa lden’s proposa l would have altered similar contracts legally and provided federal land taxes, but Democrats, i n c l u d i n g D e Fa z i o , rushed the payments proposal to the f loor before it was included, he said.
   As a result, the bipartisan coalition that has supported extending the payments could crumble, Walden said.
   “It has been made partisan and bitter, and it never should have,” he said.
   DeFazio said Walden’s proposal would increase offshore drilling in states that have opposed that activity. He added that his office has researched the federal contracts he wants to adjust and it can be done legally and will fix an error that exempted oil companies from paying to use federal lands.
   The congressmen gave mixed impressions on future opportunities to extend the payments. Walden said if today’s vote on the multiyear extension fails, it can be brought up later, providing an opportunity for his concept to be introduced.
   But DeFazio said without more than half the House voting on the matter, it cannot be resurrected and there’s opposition in the White House.
   “I’m not giving up but it’s getting tougher and tougher,” he said.
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