Friday, September 30, 2011

Vilsack warns federal payments to timber counties won't survive budget-cutting 'super committee'

UPDATE, Oct. 13: Thirteen West Virginia counties and more than 111 public schools in the state stand to lose almost $10 million a year if the program ends, Amy Harris of The Charleston Gazette reports.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had a "bleak view of the future of federal payments to counties" dependent on timber production from national forests, the editorial board of The Oregonian in Portland says. On a visit to Portland this week, Vilsack said he does not expect the payments to survive the "super committee" process designed to cut the federal deficit. The law authorizing the payments expires today, and "The final payments are expected to go out to schools and counties in 41 states this December and January," The Associated Press reports.

"If those payments are not renewed, and nothing is done to promptly provide the counties with more revenues from public forests, Oregon will have a rural catastrophe on its hands," the Oregonian warns. "Federal payments pay for essential services across timber country; without them, some county governments are likely headed for default. Listening to Vilsack, it's not clear that he or anyone else leading the Obama administration fully understands the challenges of keeping county governments and schools operating in places where the U.S. Forest Service owns more than half the land and about the only economic activity it generates is whatever is spent putting out the wildfires that flare every summer."

The editorial had this line that could be quoted by many rural newspapers: "One way or the other, through timber receipts, direct payments or another source -- the government is obliged to share the costs of schools, roads and other public services in places where federal ownership of land cuts deeply into local tax bases" (Read more)

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