GRANTS PASS, Ore. — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon says he's got enough backing in the U.S. Senate to pass a bill renewing special payments to rural timber counties in 41 states hurt by a decline in logging on federal lands.
For Lane County in Oregon, for example, those funds totaled $44 million and dwindled to $15 million this past year.
The act has since expired. Without Congressional action, the payment to Lane, Douglas, Coos and other timber counties next year will be zero. In 2010, Oregon counties received over $108 million in direct payments from the federal government.
But prospects for the aid remain uncertain in the Republican-controlled House with its tough budget rules.
Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon's lone Republican in Congress, led the transition team for Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
A press release issued Wednesday said all of Oregon's Congressional leadership - including Walden - have unified behind a call to renew the Secure Rural Schools funds.
"There is bipartisan and widespread recognition that the state quo county payment program doesn't work, at least for the long term," said Andrew Whelan, a spokesman for Rep. Walden.
Whelan said Wyden's bill is an important first step, and that Walden supports "bridge funding" while the House works out a plan to put Oregonians and others back to work in the woods.
Wyden said Wednesday a bill to be introduced next week in the Senate would extend the aid for five years, cutting rates 5 percent a year.
The House is working now on bipartisan proposals to create timber jobs, generate revenue for counties and protect old growth trees, Whelan said.
"It puts people back to work in the woods, people can pay taxes, "It's a much more sustainable solution than asking the federal government for money."
The Secure Rural Schools Act was enacted in 2000. It expired at the end of September, and the last payments go out this winter.
Counties in rural Western Oregon in particular say renewing the money is crucial to funding law enforcement, schools and other services.
Wyden and Republican Larry Craig were the original champions of the funding, intended to compensate timber counties for revenues lost due to a drop in timber harvests on federal property.
Public lands managed by the federal government pay no income tax to counties and other local government, which provide law enforcement, roads and schools located adjacent to those public lands.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press