(In)secure rural schools, once again

 

Many struggling Western counties will find themselves in even worse financial shape if an expiring federal law isn't renewed soon. Since 2000, local governments in 41 states have received billions of dollars from the feds to compensate them for reduced revenue from timber sales. Especially in logging-dependent states like Oregon and Washington, which saw federal timber production drop dramatically in the 90s, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act has helped counties pay for schools, public safety and road projects.

The Act expired last fall, and the final payments went out this month. Oregon got the biggest chunk of funding, with $108 million, while California received $48 million, and Washington and Idaho $31 million each. But it's not a bucket o' cash that can be used anywhere it's needed – the funds are earmarked for specific uses. For example, Oregon's Curry County has $33 million of federal money squirreled away in its road fund, which it can't dip into to plug budget gaps in other areas.

Historically, the Secure Rural Schools Act has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and Western politicians have fought hard for its continuance. When it was up for reauthorization in 2006, the Bush administration proposed funding it by selling off tens of thousands of acres of public land. That idea didn't gain traction in either party and Congress eventually came through with appropriations to extend the funding for a year. In 2008, the Act got another extension, to 2011.

But this time, hard as it is to believe, the proposed renewal of the Act may go nowhere. Given the poisonous stagnation in Congress, the burgeoning deficit, and the growing backlash against anything even faintly resembling an entitlement program, HR 3599, sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., may not make much headway.

From the National Association of Counties:

HR 3599 is a companion bill to Senator Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) SRS legislation (S 1692). While the Senate legislation has garnered bipartisan support, House Democrats and Republicans are split on how to move forward. Democrats would prefer a clean extension of the program, while House Republicans are insisting on new forest management provisions that would expand logging and increase land usage.

Meanwhile, without renewal, rural counties in the West will be hurting in a major way. One example: Without those supplemental payments, Oregon rural counties will lose 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, and business sales will drop by up to $400 million, according to projections in a 2009 Oregon State University study.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....