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SRS a ‘sick’ option but only one for rural counties



David Rauzi

Year after year it is the same Congressional knife fight to reauthorize Secure Rural School (SRS) funding with 11th-hour saves to the program to get us through another year.

This year, chances for reauthorization are as slim as we’ve ever seen them. But what if it is? What about next year? And after that?

SRS has provided a continued financial “fix” to rural counties – more than $6.2 million to Idaho County in FY2016 — to counter the decrease in revenues from timber sales that started in the late ‘80s. Such logging revenues funded rural communities across the west — glory days now long gone due to changes in how public lands are used, technological improvements within the industry itself, and a host of trade issues with the global market.

As narcotics go, SRS has been quite benign. Rural communities have made up the shortfalls and funded essential “meat and potato” programs, primarily education, and road and bridge. As well, SRS provides funding for public lands restoration projects. Everyone at the table gets something with SRS.

It’s insidious, as narcotics go, for its widespread support, and for the blunt reality that what else are rural communities – where incomes are below the state and national averages — supposed to do to fund essential programs? Raise taxes? (Do that, and we’d not be surprised to see school districts start losing subsequent levy elections.) Economic development? Congressional efforts to expand timber harvests? “Make it a permanent part of the federal budget? (Really, Senator Crapo, for how long have we been promised that chestnut?)

There is nothing to do or we’d have done it already, and we’ve been at this since 2001 when SRS (then known as the Craig-Wyden Act) was first authorized.

And just to refresh you, SRS was for “short-term stability,” according to then Idaho County Commissioner George Enneking in a 2001 Free Press interview, who was instrumental in developing the Craig-Wyden Act. It was supposed to only run six years, to allow rural communities time to restore and transform their local economies.

How’d that recessionary period work out for ya? All restored and transformed?

Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding shows the danger inherent to public entities in relying upon federal appropriation programs to support operating budgets, as such appropriations are at the whim of legislators horse-trading their support for more lucrative political gains elsewhere, individuals who have neglected or chosen to forget their obligations brought on due to their actions.

Speaking as a county made up of 80-percent-plus public lands, we’re frustrated we’ve been thwarted in using the natural bounty all around us to support ourselves and our communities, that more than a decade and a half of politics has gotten us no closer to solutions allowing us to get off the public dole.

SRS reauthorization this year? Right now, the thought makes us sick. But with no other options open to us, and with the threat to budgets and limited incomes without it, what choice to we have but to beg our dealer to feed our addiction for another year?


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