Fight For School Forest Money Draws State Legislators And School Officials To Pocahontas County Meeting
Marlinton, WV – The push to get the Safe and Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act [SRSCA] reauthorized for another five years drew a large crowd of concerned citizens, school officials and state legislators to the Opera House in Marlinton Tuesday night. The meeting was organized by the Pocahontas County Board of Education and the Partnership for Rural America Campaign.
Marc Kelley Campaign Manager for Partnership for Rural America explains the origins of the Safe and Secure Rural schools act.
“Back in the 1990’s when timber production began to really fall off the face of the earth in the Pacific Northwest over something called the spotted owl, they began what’s called owl’ payments,” he says. “And those payments were designed to subsidize or pay back for lack of actual forest management.”
In other words, lack of timber sales. He says the payments went primarily to counties in Oregon, Washington and northern California. He says in 2000 the same problem was cropping up in other states and led to the initial act passed by Congress.
“It was a six year act,” says Kelley, “for a stable amount of funding with a set formula that provided about 525 million dollars a year to 662 counties in 42 states.”
It was reauthorized for one year in 2007, then for another four years in 2008, although with some significant changes in how the funds were distributed. The final payment under the 2008 bill should arrive in January 2012. Kelley says Senate bill S1692 was introduced in the US Senate several weeks ago. That bill would reauthorize SRS, albeit at a reduced amount of funding that would run through 2016. He says the US House of Representatives is taking a different tack.
“On the House side, they have a working draft,” he says. “They’ve had two hearings on the draft and now they’re trying to cost it; they do not put a number in there for reauthorization right now. What they intend on doing is putting a number in there eventually, but more importantly, they’re going to put in a revenue estimate that the forest service is expected to make off of all their national forests.”
Kelley says he’s encouraged that the bill is even being considered by Congress. But like so many other pieces of important legislation being considered, the dark cloud of deficit reduction also hangs over this one.
“My guess is this will not be done in time next year,” says Kelley. “The offsets that people have in mind for how to pay for this my view is that they’re not likely to want to disclose those offsets until after Congress votes on the budget reduction in December because if they did disclose those offsets, that committee of 12 or the Congress itself would hate them. There’s an interesting balancing act going on between keeping us alive and the responsibilities the Congress is taking seriously to try and deal with deficit reduction.”
Kelley says hopefully within the next six weeks they’ll get a better idea of what the House bill will look like and the expectations. He also says as of November 8th, neither Senator Jay Rockefeller nor Senator Joe Manchin had signed onto the senate bill. He urged all those in attendance to ask both Senators for their support.
Senator Jay Rockefeller
531 Hart Senate Office Building
(202) 224-7665 Main Fax
Senator Joe Manchin
303 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510