On Thursday, members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee discussed the need to provide financial security for rural communities in Oregon, and nationwide, but ensuring long-term funding for essential services. During the hearing on pending legislation addressing the Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs, Oregon’s Ron Wyden said it’s important that lawmakers get rural communities off of this “roller coaster where they don’t know until the last minute if they’ll have funds to address schools, road maintenance law enforcement and more”. He said it’s important that SRS funding is locked down for several more years.
From there, he, along with fellow Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, as well as Idaho senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch would like to see a permanent endowment fund established through the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act.
“So you’d have money for schools and roads, and basic services. The Congress would make an initial investment in the fund. The principle gets invested and the interest is used to make the county payments for these essential services.”
Wyden said they want to see the safety net for rural communities grow.
“So the legislation deposits forest revenue sharing payments, into the endowment each year, to increase the county payments, so, in effect, so as the forests are more appropriately managed, and as timber harvests grow, so to will payment to the counties.”
Since enacted in 2000, SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states to fund schools and essential services like roads and public safety. In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties as they budget for basic county services.
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