Cantwell, Murray plan to sponsor bill to extend rural schools act

By:  Rob Hotakainen, The News Tribune
Source: The News Tribune

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators, including Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, plans to introduce a bill next week that would give a five-year extension for a program that provides federal aid to rural counties that have experienced a decline from timber harvests on federal land.

It’s called the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which expired on Sept. 30.

Cantwell said the program has been particularly important for Washington state, which ranks third among states in payments received from the federal government.

Last year, she said, Washington state counties received about $30 million in funding to help compensate for revenue lost from declining Forest Service timber harvests on federal lands near forest communities.

Under a five-year extension, Washington state would receive as much as $103 million more, Cantwell said.

Under federal law, national forest land can’t be taxed by counties, states or other local jurisdictions. In place of taxes, the U.S. Forest Service shares revenue generated by timber harvests on federal lands near forest communities, with the funds going for schools, roads and other services. But timber harvests have declined since the 1990s, leading to less revenue for hundreds of counties around the nation.

The bipartisan group that will propose the extension next week includes Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who’s leading the effort, Cantwell and Murray, and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), James Risch (R-ID), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Udall (D-NM), Max Baucus (D-MT), Harry Reid (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).