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SRS trust fund: long-term solution worth pursuing



David Rauzi

Could a trust fund be the solution Idaho County has been longing for in a stable long-term funding option, in the wake of the expired Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS)?

It sounds like a long shot, but even with slim odds, at least there’s now a third option on the table between the nail-biting county budgeting anxiety of annual “one-time program extensions” or the current reality of the less than adequate 25 percent timber receipt funding.

The trust fund idea was raised in Sunday’s Lewiston Tribune, a proposal explained by Mark Haggerty, Headwaters Economics of Bozeman, Mont. According to the article, a fund would be established by funneling 25 percent of federal timber sale receipts into a trust fund, from which a percentage would be distributed to counties through the SRS program.

The fund would be managed by a non-governmental entity, with its balance invested in the stock market. During time, the fund and payments are anticipated to grow and eventually eliminate the need for congressional appropriations. Haggerty said many states rich in natural resources, such as timber, coal or oil, have such permanent trusts.

As you could guess, funding is the main hurdle, acknowledged by both Haggerty and also Idaho Senator Mike Crapo. Haggerty estimates it could take 12 to 15 years just to equal the existing 25 percent timber receipt payments, and longer than that to equal SRS payments.

However, we’d argue that funding is less of an issue than congressional vision and perseverance.

That observation is borne out just looking at SRS itself. It was originally developed as a stop-gap, a short-term solution that has since been repeatedly renewed as counties – such as Idaho County — with large percentages of public lands are unable to fund essential services otherwise. Year after year the pattern has been the same of pending program termination, springtime panic and then a ninth-inning legislative save…until we start the process over.

We truly appreciate the SRS reauthorization efforts of our congressional delegation, but to be honest it’s just propping up a fix only meant to have been temporary. Despite this SRS cycle bearing the hallmarks of mild insanity, we realize it has been much less work than that of crafting a long-term solution that would require legislators to stick through the costs and constituent hell-raising to set up a system that ends appropriations and returns some measure of independence to rural counties.

Yes, a trust fund sounds like a long shot with a long-term payout. But it’s one we’d still like to see explored and – if there’s merit in the proposal – pursued to reach a resolution, if not for us, then the next generation of Idaho County residents.


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