WASHINGTON, D.C. The final version of Senate Bill 1608, which could supply Curry County with $3.5 million more a year in federal funds than it is currently receiving, passed the Senate Friday afternoon and will move to the House this week.
Rocky McVay, executive director of the Association of O&C Counties, said the bill, which has been reconciled with House Resolution 2389, will go into committee and is expected to move through the House within a week.
The bill was once again held up last week by a dispute between Sen. Ron Wyden, D - Ore., the co-author of the bill, and Sen. Don Nickles, R - Okla., sponsor of a bill that would overturn Oregons assisted suicide law.
Each senator blocked the others bill throughout the summer until Sen. Gordon Smith, R- Ore., mediated a truce.
McVay said Smith again convinced Nickles to allow the county payments bill to move forward. He was aided by Sen. Larry Craig, R - Idaho, who co-authored the bill with Wyden.
Wyden said Friday, This clears the way for a stable increased source of funding for rural schools and county services.
Were guaranteeing steady aid for rural communities, while severing the tie between unpredictable timber harvests and county payments. Thats a victory for rural counties and the environment.
Smith said, When this legislation becomes law it will fulfill the federal governments compact with our local governments and reestablish payment levels for the education and road needs of rural Oregonians.
He said the federal payments will benefit 179 Oregon school districts serving more than 500,000 students.
Unfortunately, according to financial officials from the Oregon Department of Education, the bill will result in no net gain for school funding in this state.
The Oregon legislature limits funding per pupil. The increase in federal funds will be offset by an equal decrease in state funds.
Curry County Commissioner Lloyd Olds said that wasnt the intent of the bill. He said the commissioners would pressure the governor and legislature to give the money to the schools as added revenue.
If that couldnt be accomplished at the state level, he said, then the federal government should send the education funds straight to the counties so that they could pass them on to local schools.
He said the county general fund already has a schools account for just such a purpose.
Under the Wyden - Craig plan, Oregon would annually receive about $152.8 million from the U.S. Forest Service. That is an 89 percent increase in funding.
It would also receive about $108.3 million from the Bureau of Land Management, a 66 percent increase. The bill would be in effect for five years.
About 15-20 percent of the funds would be set aside for national forest land or forest related cooperative projects.
Smiths office said, The bill will help Oregon counties, historically dependent upon taxes from timber sales, pay for county roads, schools and emergency services.
Payments would no longer be tied to timber receipts. Most of the funds would come from the general treasury.
One of the key debates over the bill was whether or not to decouple federal payments from timber receipts.