WASHINGTON The House passed a funding bill on Tuesday that could bring millions of dollars in additional federal payments to timber counties like Curry.
The bill now goes to the president, who has 10 working days to sign it into law.
The bill has the support of the administration, according to the office of Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.
This is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by Congress during my career to benefit Oregonians, said DeFazio.
After nine months of delay, Im pleased that both the House and Senate have approved this vital legislation, which will mean $260 million annually for Oregon counties, he said.
DeFazio was instrumental in brokering a similar version of the bill, which was approved by the House last fall. He estimated federal payments to Curry County would rise by $7 million a year.
The Senate version of the bill, which passed in September, was co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. His office estimated the increase to Curry County to be about $3.5 million a year.
For the next six years, the additional money replaces, in part, revenues lost from declining timber harvests.
It was intended to go to county governments, road departments and rural school districts.
Unfortunately for Oregon schools, the current state funding system counts the federal payments as additional local income and will withdraw an equal amount of state aid.
Wyden reacted by adding language to the bill that makes it clear the intent is to supplement current funding for education, not replace it.
When I pushed on a bipartisan basis to increase education funding for rural schools, said Wyden, my intent was to supplement current state funding of our schools, not relieve the legislature of its duty to responsibly fund education in Oregon.
The added language states the bill is to stabilize payments to counties to provide funding for schools and roads that supplements other available funds.
To that end, Wyden and the entire Oregon congressional delegation contacted state legislative leaders and the governor and offered assistance. Wyden said educators across the state had asked for his help.
Wyden is also concerned that state Measures 91 and 93 will make it more difficult for the legislature to honor its obligation to rural schools.
It is critically important to rural education that Oregonians vote down Measures 91 and 93 because these initiatives would deal a body blow to youngsters in rural communities across our state, said Wyden.
In my opinion, if those measures pass, lawmakers will feel extraordinary pressure to offset the cuts with county payments funding.
DeFazio told The Pilot Thursday he also hopes state lawmakers will honor the federal intent to help rural counties and schools.
In good part, the economy of many Oregon communities was shaped around those federal lands, DeFazio said. When federal polices change, the federal government has some obligation to make those communities whole and give them the ability to support some basic services.