Editorial from The Herald and News, Oct. 10, on federal payments to Oregon counties:
Perhaps the time will come when Oregon's counties won't have to run to Washington, D.C., with their hands out. But it isn't now.
They not only have to go with their hands out, but they have to get the money from a budget that's hideously out of balance.
Nobody really wants to do things this way - certainly not most Oregonians, who would rather see the funds for local governmental services generated by jobs on productive forest lands.
The federal county payments law that sends money to counties to replace lost logging revenue has been renewed once since it was first established in 2000, and it has gotten bigger. More counties and states have gotten on board. It isn't a pretty process, but Oregon is at best a middleweight when it comes to congressional power and needs support from other states. Being right isn't enough.
The money that comes back to Oregon's counties under the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act, as the federal county payments act is officially known, isn't for pie-in-the-sky stuff.
This money is for feet-on-the-ground stuff - building roads and putting sheriff's deputies on patrol and teachers in the classroom.
In Klamath County's case, the program will put about $1.16 million into the county's general fund this fiscal year. That helps pay for law enforcement and many of the other services provided by county government.
About $5 million a year has been going into the county road fund.
The law and its payments are scheduled to expire after June 30, 2012.
Financial aid to the counties came from an understanding between the federal government and states that hold millions of acres of federal forest lands. Local areas don't get property taxes or benefit from development on federally-managed lands because the federal government doesn't pay property taxes and restricts development.
Instead, the federal government shared timber receipts from the national forests with counties and school districts and other tax districts. People were generally happy with the way that worked out, but environmental concerns led to a drastic cutback in logging - and the receipts to pay for local services. That led to the establishment of the federal county payments program to help provide local services.
Most people thought it would be an ongoing program that would automatically be renewed, but it didn't turn out that way.
Oregon needs some form of the payments program to continue for a while, but it should be combined with allowing fuller use of the forest and there have been numerous efforts to do that from the Oregon congressional delegation.
True, logging and mills depend on a good market, which doesn't exist right now and probably won't in the next few years. But it does exist in most years.
Taking away the county payments funds without giving Oregonians a way to replace them through use of the resources is not just unfair, but stupid.