Republican News

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate passed S. 1608, the Timber Receipts / County Payments bill, unanimously late Wednesday night. The bill authored by Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore), and cosponsored by Chairman Frank H. Murkowski, now heads to the House of Representatives. The measure will provide aid to local towns, and counties that previously received a share of timber receipts from logging in local areas. With the downturn in timber harvests over the past eight years, some 800 counties nationwide have seen sharp drops in money for local schools. The bill guarantees that towns will receive an annual payment that is the equivalent of the average payment of their three highest years of timber receipts for the past 15 years. Local governments can either accepts the payment, or base their federal aid on the actual level of timber receipts in their areas. Nationally, the bill would increase funding by $1.1 billion for the next five years. These funds would provide for 2,000 rural school districts, helping 600, 000 families and more than 4 million school children. "These communities depended on shared federal timber revenues to fund schools and road construction. It isn’t fair to force school children and small communities to bear the burden of environmental activism," Murkowski said. The bill also allows local governments to either receive 85 percent of their entitlement for education and road cost, or receive an additional 15 percent provided they spend the extra funds on projects on federal lands. Acceptable projects must be proposed by local advisory committees after gaining local input. "This legislation reverses the inward turning, and Beltway-centered thinking of resource managers by creating a collaborative process for natural resource management in rural communities. The bill should provide rural communities and their public lands managers the opportunity to work together to improve the ecosystems by investing in public lands," Murkowski said of the advisory process created by the bill. An additional part of the bill restores state/federal oil and gas net receipts sharing to its pre-1993 status. When federal lands generate revenue from the leasing of energy or mineral resources, those revenues are evenly divided between the federal government and the state in which the revenue is generated. In 1993, the law changed to allow the federal government to charge states 50 percent of the costs of collecting the revenues. In 1997, the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior found the Department was overcharging states millions of dollars for activities unrelated to the collection of the revenue. Going back to the 1993 law stops the overcharging and returns the status to evenly divided revenues without a charge for administering the program. ###