WASHINGTON D.C. — According to one Internet education blog, the National Governors Association (NGA) is lobbying Congress to continue providing Secure Rural Schools (SRS) aid to states impacted by federal lands.
For over a century, counties with federal forests have received a portion of revenue from timber sales in those forests. In 1908, the Forest Service began paying counties 25 percent of timber revenues, and in 1937, the Bureau of Land Management began paying counties 50 percent of timber revenues.
Unfortunately, when timber revenues fluctuate due to changes in world timber markets and timber production declines so do the county payments. To combat these fluctuations and provide more secure funding for these rural counties, in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) was signed into law. SRS provides funding for rural schools, roads and rural infrastructure, law enforcement, and other critical government services.
To replace SRS funding with timber harvest alone the Forest Service would have to increase timber harvest from 2.4 billion board feet per year to 16 billion board feet per year.
The governors issued a statement April 26 imploring lawmakers to restore cuts made to the SRS program since 2015, asking that money be restored for SRS in the fiscal 2017 budget through to fiscal 2018 at previous levels.
Some $278 million in SRS funds were available in fiscal 2015 compared to $58 million in fiscal 2016. Nine million students in about 4,400 districts benefit from the funds. The Owing to their timber product harvests on federal lands, Oregon, California, and Idaho see the most funds form the program.
Poor rural counties in southern Colorado also are dependent on the funds, especially since the state of Colorado recently cut education finding.
SRS officially expired last Friday, April 28. Congress is still negotiating how to fund the rest of the budget year. President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget proposal for fiscal 2018, which will begin Oct. 1, doesn’t mention SRS.
It will likely be several more weeks before his administration releases a fully fleshed-out budget that addresses the program. Fiscal 2018 begins on Oct. 1.
Members of Congress from states where federal lands comprise much of the total landmass have written to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney urging him to include SRS funding at 2015 levels.
Saguache County Commissioners sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner Tuesday, asking them to support the full refunding of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) ass well as SRS this fiscal year.
“Should the federal government fail to reauthorize SRS, county forest payments will revert to the permanently authorized 25 percent revenue sharing payments under the National Forest Revenue Act of 1908. This will negatively impact county government revenues. When SRS authorization expired in FY2014, county payments nationwide decreased by a staggering 80 percent.
“Another revenue cut like this will force many public lands, counties and schools to reduce the most basic services and infrastructure, including a reduction in school teachers. Additionally, some counties receiving PILT payments may see a reduction [as well], as SRS counties would no longer be required to deduct SRS payments under the PILT formula.
“County governments are responsible for implementing a broad array of services, such as educating our nation’s youth, responding to emergency calls and maintaining public infrastructure. Counties across the nation urge you to protect vital revenue streams that ensure these public services will not be interrupted in the coming year and in the long-term.”