Lawmakers in Washington must pass a budget bill by tomorrows deadline. NewsWatch 12 spoke with Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Greg Walden to discuss what the budget could mean for Oregon.
Both Walden and Merkley were optimistic about the bill due to the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) being a part of it, something that is crucial to keep schools and libraries open and hasn't been renewed since 2015.
Senator Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, and Greg Walden all pushed for this bill. They say that SRS payments are crucial maintain roads, keep police officers on the streets and provide mental health resources in rural counties.
The new budget allows for $426 million for the program over the course of two years. That is paid for by selling off surplus oil on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Only a portion of that $426 million will go to Oregon. The federal government decides how to divide the lump sum between states that were impacted by a lack of management in federal forest lands. Oregon has always been towards the top of that list, according to Walden.
While we don't know an exact dollar amount, Walden says it's safe to say that our state will benefit, saying, "I felt good about where we ended up and we made progress. We live to work another day to continue to make additional forestry reforms but this is a big win for our region."
The SRS was created to help timber dependent communities, like Jackson and Josephine Counties, while they transition away from the timber industry. In a way it was designed to fill in the gaps of income for the state. It was intended to be a temporary fix and expired in 2015 and hasn't been signed back into law until this new budget that is expected to pass tomorrow.
During 2016 and 2017 the Bureau for Land Management (BLM) had to find income from somewhere else since the SRS was no longer enacted. They decided to go back to an older formula that collected 50% of the timber industries revenue, which wasn't an ideal situation anymore because of the decrease in the industry overall.
The last time the SRS was in effect was 2015 and according to BLM records, the state received $35,566,001.44 from that act. In 2016 they only received $19,000,000.00.
The hope is that with SRS back into law the state will have more federal income for schools, roads, law enforcement, and mental health.
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