Counties in Three-State Area Get Budget Relief

By Tom Bacon

Cash-strapped counties in Idaho, Oregon and Washington get a little breathing room with a new cash infusion - more than $117-million - from the federal Secure Rural Schools program. 

Local government units in areas of the three states with high proportions of non-taxable federal land have become dependent on the in-lieu of taxes federal payments. But the funding has become more iffy since the program was enacted at the turn of the century because of budget deficits, high national debt totals and an increasingly parsimonious Congress.

The program was extended this year only with a rider tacked on to an unrelated helium bill by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. The payments were designed originally to decrease over time, so that regions dependent on logging in federal forests could develop non-timber based economic replacements.

Under the new allocations, Oregon gets the lion's share, about $67.8 million. Idaho counties will split $29.3 million, and Washington is in line for $21.5 million. The money goes to fund public schools, roads and bridges, for projects to improve forest health and to help counties develop community wildfire protection plans.

Traditionally, the U.S. Forest Service shared with states 25 percent of receipts from timber sales, grazing and mineral rights, but those payments began to shrink in the 1980s with a drop in logging on federal lands.
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