A one-year extension of federal timber subsidies paid to rural counties has survived conference committee negotiations between the House and the Senate.
Rep. Peter DeFazio says the conference report on the transportation bill that contains the money should be signed late Wednesday night, and goes before Congress for a vote on Friday.
The provision put into the Senate transportation bill by Sen. Ron Wyden would distribute $346 million to 700 counties in 41 states.
About $100 million of that would go to Oregon, where timber counties have had to make drastic budget cuts, particularly to public safety, since the Secure Rural Schools Act expired last year.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Wednesday he helped secure the one year extension of county payments in the final House and Senate agreement on a long-term transportation reauthorization.
"This one-year extension gives us the breathing room we need to continue our bipartisan and delegation-wide work toward a long-term solution the brings jobs back into the forests to create revenues that keep essential local services like schools and law enforcement afloat,” Walden said.
“I have consistently said we need a period of short-term bridge funding to sustain our rural communities until a long-term solution takes effect,” Walden said. “Some counties are already facing extreme budget challenges, absent the federal government keeping up its commitment to rural communities.
"I impressed on my colleagues the urgency of this situation. Josephine County had to release inmates from its jails. The federal government, which owns the lion’s share of land in our rural forested communities, must be a better neighbor.”
“The status quo of asking the federal government for a check year after year is not sustainable,” Walden said. “Our counties are heading over a fiscal cliff. They need certainty. Our people need jobs. And the forests need to be managed, for now and the future. This one year lifeline is a bridge, not a solution. I will forge ahead with bipartisan work with Reps. DeFazio and Schrader and the Natural Resource Committee to change federal forest policies so we can get Oregonians back to work in the woods.”
The final agreement, which was agreed to by the bipartisan leadership in the House and Senate, must now be passed by both chambers and signed into law by the president.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., also hailed word that the amendment to extend county payments he and Senator Wyden shepherded through the Senate will be included in the conference agreement on the transportation bill:
“This news is a huge relief for Oregon’s struggling timber counties," Merkley said. "These funds are desperately needed to keep teachers in our schools, first responders on the job, and cops on the beat. But this funding is just a short-term reprieve. We need to figure out a long-term solution that establishes a sustainable timber harvest, creating jobs in the woods and jobs in the mills, while improving healthy forest ecosystems.”