Washington’s congressional delegation is making a bipartisan push to renew payments to rural counties that have large amounts of their land in federal forests.
Legislation being introduced this week in both the Senate and the House calls for Congress to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program. The SRS helps compensate counties that contain large amounts of federal land, which is exempt from the local property taxes that provide a significant portion of money used for schools, roads and emergency services.
Authorization for the program was not renewed last fall.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was among the sponsors of the Senate bill following a hearing Tuesday in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. At the hearing, local officials from the state said the program was important for maintaining essential services.
“The White House does not seem to understand the need for the SRS (programs), nor the impact they have on local governments and local economies across the West,” Cantwell said in a news release.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is among sponsors of the House bill, saying it was vital for rural communities in the northeast part of the state. While the federal government works on reforms to “get our federal forests working again,” it must provide certainty to those counties, she said.
Washington counties in the SRS received a total of $17.3 million last year. As of this year, that amount was down to about $2.3 million. The bills introduced would cover the shortfall caused by the program’s loss of authorization and guarantee the same payment levels as 2016.
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