Murkowski Raises Concerns Over Obama Administration’s Warning That It May Not Support Renewal of Secure Rural Schools Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Obama administration has warned that it may not support reauthorization of a program that helps fund schools, road maintenance and public facilities in Alaska communities that border national forest lands. 

The warning came in a recent letter from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to Murkowski. Vilsack was responding to a letter Murkowski sent to President Obama in July asking that the president recommend reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Development Act in his Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which will be released in February 2011. The rural schools revenue sharing program, which is known in some communities as “timber receipts,” “county payments” or “national forest receipts,” expires on September 30, 2011.

Vilsack said the administration would carefully consider the program’s reauthorization, but added, “Presently we have the challenge of determining the proper course for the future of this program, including the determination of how to pay for” its continuation.

Murkowski responded: “No doubt these are difficult fiscal times for the nation. However, we must not forget that the Forest Service controls nearly 22 million acres of Alaska lands and has a responsibility to support the schools and communities that may neither tax nor develop these lands. That is why I have been a steadfast supporter of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act over the years and will continue to fight for this crucial program next year.” 

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act was last reauthorized in 2008 with Murkowski’s support. 

Alaska communities and schools are slated to receive about $85 million in revenue sharing payments from September 1, 2008, to September 30, 2011, under the current law. Unless the law is extended next year, Alaska communities and school districts will receive the last checks issued under the 2008 Act in calendar year 2012. About $35 million is currently divided among the organized boroughs as follows:

Municipality of Anchorage $538,315

Haines Borough $2,063,541

City and Borough of Juneau $4,130,098

Kenai Peninsula Borough $4,130,098

Kodiak Island Borough $9,133

Ketchikan Gateway Borough $6,949,213

Matanuska-Susitna Borough $148,896

City and Borough of Sitka $6,552,532

Municipality of Skagway $434,457

Yakutat City and Borough $3,258,918

Wrangell City and Borough $7,797,595 

The remaining nearly $50 million is distributed by the State of Alaska to school districts and communities in the Unorganized Borough that borders the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

These funds benefit Cordova, Whittier, Valdez and the Chugach REAA in Southcentral Alaska. Southeast Alaska recipients include Angoon, Coffman Cove, Craig, Gustavus, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Kake, Kasaan, Klawock, Metlakatla, Pelican, Petersburg, Port Alexander, Tenakee Springs, Thorne Bay as well as the Annette Island, Chatham and Southeast Island School Districts.

Senate responsibility for reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act rests with the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on which Murkowski serves as the senior Republican member.