Secure Rural School payments are critical to ensure that counties across Idaho and the nation, accommodating tax-exempt, federally managed lands, have the resources necessary for local schools, roads, bridges, forest management projects and public safety priorities. The federal responsibility to meet this commitment remains. I recently joined fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch and 78 of our congressional colleagues in sending a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calling on it to provide funding for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in the President’s upcoming budget request that will be submitted to Congress.
We stressed the importance of prioritizing the SRS program in the federal budgeting process, “SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting nine million students across 41 states. In many cases, these ‘forest counties’ include massive swaths of public lands, particularly national forest system lands, often consuming 65 to 90 percent of total land within their boundaries. . . . Prevailing uncertainties about SRS make it nearly impossible for local governments to plan their annual budgets. The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these forest counties, and we are committed to working in Congress to provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations.” Twenty-five senators and 53 representatives signed the letter asking the new Administration to work with us on this effort.
SRS payments, commonly called county payments, are designed to offset the loss of the local share of timber sales revenue due to a drastic decline in timber harvests. Nearly 80 percent of Idaho’s counties receive county payments because of the large amount of national forest system land in Idaho.
However, SRS expired in the fall of 2015 and requires congressional reauthorization. Nearly a year has passed since the last SRS payments were made, which has put many Idaho counties in a difficult spot. As we noted in the letter, “Without SRS, existing revenue sharing payments are not sufficient to support the services these counties must provide, and counties are forced to choose between critical services for their citizens.”
The federal government’s irresponsible overspending that has resulted in a nearly $20 trillion national debt makes it increasingly difficult to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibilities. Comprehensive reforms that control federal spending and provide better certainty of the ability to meet these federal obligations are greatly needed.
As I continue to work for these long-term economic reforms and reforms to strengthen revenue sharing with local governments by increasing timber harvests and restoration work on federally-managed lands, I continue to work for meeting our national responsibility to the rural communities housing our federal lands.