National Association of Counties supports Secure Rural Schools extension bill

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) pledged to protect and invest in Oregon's infrastructure during a town hall meeting at Grant Union High School on April 18.

The National Association of Counties supports a bill providing a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program.

Matthew Chase, the association’s executive director, sent a May 4 letter supporting the bill to its sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who co-authored the original legislation in 1999 with then-Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

“SRS payments support public schools, public roads, forest health projects, essential search and rescue and emergency services, and many other county projects,” Chase said in the letter. “... When the SRS program lapsed in FY 2014, forest counties saw a more than 80 percent reduction in forest payments. Counties dependent on SRS payments simply cannot meet their governing missions without these funds.”

Bills were introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives May 3. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) sponsored the bill in the House, along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), and four other representatives.

The last SRS funds were paid to Oregon counties in March 2016. Thirty-three Oregon counties received a total of $95 million in Secure Rural Schools payments last year, according to a press release from Wyden. The SRS program has brought more than $3 billion to Oregon’s timber counties and schools across the state since Wyden co-authored the original SRS legislation in 1999.

“Counties need a comprehensive and consistent approach to these three essentials: federal resources through SRS, local support and sustainably increasing the harvest,” Wyden said in a release. “This is urgent business for rural counties in Oregon to keep schools open, make essential road repairs and keep law enforcement on the beat. Our bipartisan coalition gives SRS the best chance for success right now, and I am going to stay at it to give struggling communities the long-term certainty they need.”

Grant County is expected to incur a net loss of $4 million in funding from 2016 to 2017 if the program is not reauthorized, according to estimates provided by Wyden.

The bill’s Senate cosponsors include Sens. Wyden, Hatch, Merkley, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), James Risch (R-Idaho), Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado).

House cosponsors are Reps. Bonamici, McMorris Rodgers, Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin), Rick Nolan (D-Minnesotta), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington).

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