Letters from the West

Will Idaho delegation vote for rural school, road funds they support?

A log truck bring timber out of the woods in Elmore County near Prairie. The drop in timber harvest prompted Congress to start funding program for counties that had been getting more finding from timber receipts that are now largely gone.
A log truck bring timber out of the woods in Elmore County near Prairie. The drop in timber harvest prompted Congress to start funding program for counties that had been getting more finding from timber receipts that are now largely gone. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Both Idaho Republican Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson signed a letter supporting the Secure Rural Schools funding program.

The bipartisan letter, signed by 50 Congress members, urges House leaders to reauthorize the funding that help fund law enforcement, transportation and education in 720 counties in 41 states that uses to get more money than they do now from the local share of timber receipts and other revenue.

"The SRS program continues to be a critical safety net for forest counties," the Congress members said in the letter. "As Congress continues its work to improve forest management with policies that protect natural resources, improve forest health and provide jobs, we urge you to work in a partisan fashion to reauthorize the SRS program."

The program that provided Idaho counties and schools $28 million, expired a year ago and the last payments came earlier this year.

Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch signed a similar letter a earlier in September signed by a bipartisan coalition of 29 senators.

I reported in March of 2015 that Labrador was one of 37 House members who voted against the Medicare Access Act, which reforms Medicare payments and extended the Secure Rural payments. Simpson had supported the bipartisan majority.

Labrador's Press Secretary Dan Popkey said at the time the Congressman has long supported a permanent solution to the Secure Rural payments.

“Attaching two years of SRS funding to a completely unrelated Medicare bill that adds $141 billion to our $18 trillion debt was unacceptable,” Popkey said.

Labrador has sought to provide the funding to rural communities by allowing states to manage and harvest the timber on federal lands and directing the funds directly to the counties. His bill to establish a pilot program has passed the House.

His Democratic opponent, James Piotrowski, criticized his 2015 vote.

“Supporting a reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program is a no-brainer,” Piotrowski said. “Idaho’s rural communities depend on SRS funds and anybody representing those communities should take that very seriously.”

The program is separate from a federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes Funding program that provides all counties with federal land annual payments they can use as they wish. Idaho counties get about $30 million.

“In Idaho, SRS is critical for counties to fund schools and infrastructure,” said Simpson. “While I prefer a long-term solution that provides budgeting certainty to counties, it is important that Congress act in the short-term to help rural counties fund some of the most vital programs that impact our daily lives.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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