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Cantwell, Murray, McMorris Rodgers, Herrera Beutler and Kilmer Introduce Legislation to Boost Schools, Services in Timber Communities

New legislation would restore the Secure Rural Schools Program

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Washington, DC, May 3, 2017 | comments
Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a bill to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), and Derek Kilmer (WA-06) introduced similar legislation in the House.
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Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a bill to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), and Derek Kilmer (WA-06) introduced similar legislation in the House.

SRS provides critical revenues to rural forest counties with a high proportion of federal land. The program supports a variety of services in 775 counties and 4,400 schools across the country.

 “The White House does not seem to understand the need for the SRS [programs], nor the impact they have on local governments and local economies across the West. These... programs are what pay for schools, roads, and emergency services in our rural communities,” Senator Cantwell said at a hearing on SRS yesterday. “Local governments depend on these programs to function, and I know that we need to have these programs now and give certainty to our local governments.”

“The Secure Rural Schools program was established to help give communities the certainty they need to run schools, keep law enforcement officers on the job, keep infrastructure projects moving, and so much more,” Senator Patty Murray said. “I’m encouraged to see so much bipartisan support in the new Congress to deliver the certainty our counties need, and I will continue to do everything I can to make clear to this Administration how critical it is to fulfill commitments to the rural communities we represent.”

“The Secure Rural Schools program is vital for our rural communities, like those in Northeastern Washington. While we work toward active forestry reforms to get our federal forests working again, we must still provide certainty for our counties. This bill will help provide that certainty by ensuring the extension of the SRS program which aids affected counties with essential services, funding for public education, and infrastructure maintenance. I’m proud to lead this legislation because people in Eastern Washington rely on the Secure Rural Schools program for their livelihoods,” said McMorris Rodgers.

“The Secure Rural Schools program is currently the only lifeline for many formerly timber-dependent communities in Southwest Washington to keep schools, emergency services and roads operating,” said Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. “For example, Skamania County once had a thriving timber industry to fund their vital services, but now, with more than 90% of the land in public ownership and producing virtually zero harvest, they no longer have local tax revenue to support the needs of their local residents. I’m committed to working with my Democrat and Republican colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate to extend the Secure Rural Schools program, and will push this legislation in Congress until we do.  And I’ll also continue to work with them toward a long-term, sustainable solution by reforming our federal forest management policies to better empower forest-dependent communities.”

“The Secure Rural Schools program has helped cities and towns on the Olympic Peninsula and across our state pay for essential services like education, public safety, and infrastructure,” said Kilmer. “I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan, bicameral effort because without it, rural communities will see their budgets stretched even thinner.”  

Uncertainty about the Secure Rural Schools program (SRS) makes it nearly impossible for impacted local governments to plan their annual budgets. SRS payments impacts 9 million students across 41 states. The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these counties, and Congress must provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations.

The bills introduced today back-pay counties for the shortfall in funding they received last month without Secure Rural Schools program, and would ensure that counties receive the same payments next year as well. 

In 2016, under SRS, Forest Service payments to Washington counties totaled more than $17.3 million. This year, without SRS funding in place, Forest Service payments to Washington counties totaled just $2.3 million.

Kate Dean, Jefferson Country Commissioner: “Since its inception, the SRS program has been critical to Jefferson County's ability to provide basic services to our constituents. Until 2008, Jefferson County received about $1.3 million per year for roads maintenance and construction purposes, while an additional $1.3 million went to schools from Jefferson County’s SRS allocation. To put this in perspective, that level of funding is equal to what the County receives in annual motor vehicle fuel tax allocations. In fact, the SRS payment represented about 25% of our regular operating budget for county roads. Unfortunately, in subsequent years the SRS payment decreased to only $400,000 per year under this program, and the last payment the County received was for FY2015. To deal with the dramatic cutback, the County has continued to defer maintenance on pavements, bridges, and culverts and has eliminated several positions that went along with this work.”

Mike Manus, Pend Oreille County Commissioner: “Chair Murkowski, Ranking Member Cantwell and the Senate Committee, thank you for the opportunity to share Pend Oreille County’s story… We need to get SRS in the system as soon as possible. It’s a detriment to all the counties, the school districts… It’s intolerable and it needs help right now. We can fix the other issues at another point in time.”

Karen Douglass, Stevenson-Carson Superintendent: “SRS funding is crucial to be able to provide a well-rounded education for our students. The Stevenson-Carson schools also serve as centers of the community. Without the continuation of the SRS funding, the school district’s budget will be reduced by 12 percent. This spending cut is on top a 33% reduction in the budget over the last six years.”

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