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House Resources Committee Unanimously Approves Bipartisan Walden Legislation
Panel passes bill to reauthorize critical 'county payments' legislation; law provided Klamath, Lake counties with nearly $25 million in 2004
Washington, D.C. - The House Resources Committee today voted unanimously to pass HR 517, legislation introduced by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) that would reauthorize the essential Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, currently set to expire in 2006, through 2013. The vote comes one week after Walden held a hearing on the legislation in the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, which he chairs.
Last year the law provided a combined total of $24.8 million to Klamath and Lake counties, $19.3 million and $5.5 million respectively. Overall, $273 million went to 33 counties throughout Oregon, $84 million of which to Walden's district, which covers central, eastern and southern Oregon. The money from the federal government replaces funds schools and roads used to receive from federal timber harvest receipts.
"As chairman of the Forest and Forest Health Subcommittee and as a representative of a rural District containing nine federal forests, I was proud to introduce legislation reauthorizing the county payments law and to hold a hearing on this vital issue last week," said Walden. "Today, Chairman Pombo and my colleagues on the Resources Committee recognized the importance of the county payments law to rural communities throughout the state and across the nation through their unanimous support."
"Extending this law for another seven years is essential for our schools and for our counties. Moreover, it keeps a commitment the federal government has repeatedly made for nearly 100 years to communities surrounded by federal timberlands. The old funding system collapsed when federal timber harvest levels fell; that's why five years ago Congress approved a new funding system. With today's vote, we are one step closer to renewing that commitment," he continued.
In 1908, and again in 1937, legislation was enacted to help counties containing federal forestland, land that cannot contribute to the local tax and revenue base, by providing those areas with a portion of federal timber sale receipts. Steep declines in federal timber sales during the 1990s left rural counties and communities facing drastic reductions in revenues. On average, receipts decreased by more than 80 percent; some counties in Oregon saw a 97 percent reduction.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (PL 106-393) was enacted to help offset these losses by establishing a new payment formula based on historical timber sale levels. The result is a system that assists rural counties relative to the hardship they endured as timber sales dropped. Because of the heavily forested nature of federal lands in Oregon, Oregon counties have received significant support from the formula, with the Fourth and Second Districts receiving the most federal investment respectively.
During last week's hearing, Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell testified on behalf of the National Association of Counties and the National Forest Counties & Schools Coalition. He called the law "a remarkable success story" that "represents public policy at its best." He went on to say, "The legacy and accomplishment of [this law] over the last four years has been positive and substantial. This law deserves to be, and should be, extended so it can continue to benefit the citizens of our forest counties, their public schools, and our national forests."
"We've taken another important step in reauthorizing this important legislation," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). "The Rural Schools Act is a success story that has aided rural counties and schools for generations."
Walden added, "It is important that Congress fully understand the critical role this law has played in the livelihood of rural communities throughout the nation, and I am encouraged by the overwhelming support shown by the Resources Committee. The county payments law has been, and will continue to be, critical to the Second District, the State of Oregon and rural counties across the nation."
Walden is the principal author of the legislation in the House and Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is the principal author of its companion bill, S. 267. Both bills were introduced earlier this year with bipartisan support from legislators representing districts in all parts of the nation. The bill must also be approved by the House Committee on Agriculture before heading to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
Congressman Walden represents the Second District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the House leadership structure and a member of the Committee on Energy & Commerce and the Committee on Resources.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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