Democratic News

May 02 2017

Cantwell: We Must Support Our Rural Communities

Cantwell announces new legislation restoring the Secure Rural Schools Program following the hearing

An archived video of the hearing can be found here.

Watch Senator Cantwell's opening statement on YouTube.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced they will introduce tomorrow a bill to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. A Washington County commissioner was among those that testified at today’s hearing about the need for the bill.

In her opening statement Senator Cantwell said that, “The White House does not seem to understand the need for the SRS program or the PILT program [Payment In-Lieu of Taxes], nor the impact they have on local governments and local economies across the West. These two programs are what pay for schools, roads, and emergency services in our rural communities.”

Currently, the White House’s Budget Blueprint includes no funding for the SRS program and no proposal to extend it. The Trump administration‘s Budget Blueprint, also proposes to cut PILT payments by $76 million (17 percent).

Uncertainty about the Secure Rural Schools program (SRS) makes it nearly impossible for impacted local governments to plan their annual budgets. SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting 9 million students across 41 states. The federal government has long recognized its obligation to these counties, and Congress must provide these counties the resources they need to serve their populations.

The bill that Senator Cantwell, Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch will introduce tomorrow back-pays counties for the shortfall in funding they received last month without Secure Rural Schools program, and would ensure that counties receive the same payments next year as well.  

“Local governments depend on these programs to function, and I know that we need to have these programs now and give certainty to our local governments.” Senator Cantwell said.  

Through PILT alone, the counties in Washington received over $20 million last year. In 2016, under SRS, Forest Service payments to Washington counties totaled more than $17.3 million. This year, without SRS funding in place, Forest Service payments to Washington counties totaled just $2.3 million.  It appears the PILT payments will be fully funded this week in the appropriations bill, which is the good news.  However, we need to restore the SRS payments as well.

Kate Dean, Jefferson Country Commissioner: “Since its inception, the SRS program has been critical to Jefferson County's ability to provide basic services to our constituents. Until 2008, Jefferson County received about $1.3 million per year for roads maintenance and construction purposes, while an additional $1.3 million went to schools from Jefferson County’s SRS allocation. To put this in perspective, that level of funding is equal to what the County receives in annual motor vehicle fuel tax allocations. In fact, the SRS payment represented about 25% of our regular operating budget for county roads. Unfortunately, in subsequent years the SRS payment decreased to only $400,000 per year under this program, and the last payment the County received was for FY2015. To deal with the dramatic cutback, the County has continued to defer maintenance on pavements, bridges, and culverts and has eliminated several positions that went along with this work.”

Mike Manus, Pend Oreille County Commissioner: “Chair Murkowski, Ranking Member Cantwell and the Senate Committee, thank you for the opportunity to share Pend Oreille County’s story. I look forward to working with you to pass legislation that will enhance our National Forests and secure permanent PILT funding, better management of our forests to prevent catastrophic wild fires and a program for SRS to bridge the gap in the interim.” “…we need to get SRS in the system as soon as possible. It’s a detriment to all the counties, the school districts….it’s intolerable and it needs help right now. We can fix the other issues at another point in time.”

Karen Douglass, Stevenson-Carson Superintendent: “SRS funding is crucial to be able to provide a well-rounded education for our students. The Stevenson-Carson schools also serve as centers of the community. Without the continuation of the SRS funding, the school district’s budget will be reduced by 12 percent. This spending cut is on top a 33% reduction in the budget over the last six years.”

The full letter of support from Kate Dean, Jefferson Country Commissioner can be found here.

The full statement provided by Mike Manus, Pend Oreille County Commissioner can be found here.

The full letter of support from Karen Douglass, Stevenson-Carson Superintendent can be found here.

The video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement can be found here. Witness testimony will be available online immediately before the start of each hearing at on committee website.