Montana Senators push Administration to renew county payments
Baucus, Tester Demand Extension of Secure Rural Schools Initiative
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana’s Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester are urging the Obama Administration to provide a long-term renewal of a critical program for Montana counties.
Baucus and Tester joined 29 U.S. Senators from both parties pushing the administration to maintain the “contract” between rural America and the federal government known as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRSCA).
The Secure Rural Schools initiative is set to expire September 2011. Under the agreement, the federal government makes payments to counties and school districts that historically relied on tax revenues from the now faltering timber industry.
Greg Chilcott, Chairman of the Ravalli County Commissioners says without the payments, the county will have to lay off 40% of employees in the Road Department, which is charge of maintaining, grading and plowing county roads.
“Failure to extend the SRSCA would have a devastating impact on the economies of over 780 of our most rural and economically depressed counties and school districts across the nation,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the funds provided through the SRSCA are used to directly fund jobs in road maintenance and public works and positions within the public school system. These are essential services for the citizens of these rural communities and constitute family-wage jobs.”
Baucus and Tester worked to extend SRS funding for one year in 2007, then again for another four years in 2008. Montana received $28 million in SRS payments in Fiscal Year 2008.
Failure to extend SRS would lead to an annual payment loss of $468 million starting in 2012-13, resulting in a loss of financial support for construction, roads, education, conservation, and various other government-funded services and projects.
Text of Baucus’ and Tester’s letter appears below.
Dear Mr. President:
We respectfully request that you include a long-term reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act (SRSCA), and the concomitant funding, in your Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget request to Congress.
The SRSCA is not an entitlement program, but rather a demonstration of the commitment that this nation made to rural forest counties when they determined that large blocks (193 million acres in total) of our forest lands should be set aside for the benefit of the entire nation. Indeed this “contract” between the federal government and rural America is part of the very foundation of our national forest system. President Theodore Roosevelt understood the value of conserving our forest lands and placing them in public trust. He likewise understood the economic burden this placed on rural counties to provide essential infrastructure like roads and public schools with their tax revenues reduced by the presence of federal lands in these counties.
To mitigate these economic effects, President Roosevelt and Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot supported a revenue sharing concept that made forest counties a contracted business partner with the federal government. In 1908, Congress approved a revenue sharing plan specifying 25 percent of all revenues from National Forests would be returned to forested counties. This law worked well for nearly a century. However, by the late 1980’s national policies and court rulings substantially diminished revenue generating activity in our national forests. By 1998, revenues for national forest counties had declined by over 70 percent. The decline had a devastating impact on 780 counties nationwide and over nine million school children.
Recognizing its obligation to rural America, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act of 2000, and President Bill Clinton signed the bill. It provided six years of funding. In 2007, Congress extended the SRSCA for one year. In 2008, Congress once again provided a four year extension of the SRSCA from 2008-2011.
Timber harvests have not rebounded, so both the logic and the need for this program remain as strong today as when President Roosevelt first supported revenue sharing. The vast majority of the funds provided through the SRSCA are used to directly fund jobs in road maintenance and public works and positions within the public school system. These are essential services for the citizens of these rural communities and constitute family-wage earner jobs.
Failure to extend the SRSCA in 2012 would have a devastating impact on the economies of over 780 of our most rural and most economically depressed counties and school districts across the nation. In these counties, unemployment is higher than in other regions of the country with rates approaching those experienced in the Great Depression.
Failure to extend the SRSCA would lead to an annual payment loss of 468 million dollars starting in 2012-13. The economic impacts will be ongoing without an extension. This includes support for construction, roads, education, conservation, and various other government funded services and projects. The loss of the funding leads to various businesses throughout the United States, mainly in rural America, losing on an annual basis almost $1.37 billion in revenues, government at all levels losing over $188 million in tax receipts and over 11,000 people losing their jobs in 2012-13.
In addition, Title II of the SRSCA has proven to be a substantial asset to rural communities and our forested public lands. Since 2000, in a very collaborative process, over $350 million has been invested in watershed restoration and forest health projects by Resource Advisory Committees (RACs). Not one project has been appealed or litigated. In fact, based on changes in the 2008 Act, the number of RACs has grown from 55 to 116.
We are grateful that you appreciate the importance of the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act. In May 2008, you stated in an interview with the Eugene Register-Guard, “I completely agree that it’s [SRSCA] an obligation we have to meet. I think that we’re not meeting it well right now because we’re doing it piecemeal year after year by year. . . .” Those words send a strong message about the need to support this ongoing commitment to rural America.
We look forward to meeting with you and your administration to draft legislation to continue this historic partnership with rural America.