SENATE PASSES AMENDMENT COSPONSORED BY MURKOWSKI AND STEVENS TO EXTEND SECURE RURAL SCHOOLS ACT
AMENDMENT WOULD PROVIDE A FIVE-YEAR REAUTHORIZATION OF PAYMENTS TO COMMUNITIES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS RELIENT UPON FOREST TIMBER RECEIPTS
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate today has added an amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for five years. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens are original cosponsors of the amendment which was offered by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Secure Rural Schools provides a dedicated funding stream for local municipalities and school districts dependent on forest timber receipts that have been unable to rely on consistent and sustainable payments due the continued controversy over timber sales in National Forests.
“Our timber policy in the United States has prohibited communities surrounded by National Forests from having the opportunity to have sustainable economic growth,” said Senator Murkowski. “Until we allow for a sustainable timber industry, the extension of payments through Secure Rural Schools will provide schools districts and communities the revenue they desperately need.”
“Many Alaska communities have been adversely impacted by the decline in federal timber sales. In these difficult times, the Secure Rural Schools program has helped ensure sufficient resources for the students and teachers who live in affected communities,” Stevens said. “Extending this important program for five years will allow us to continue to provide the best possible education to young Alaskans throughout our state.”
The reauthorization includes a ten percent phase down of Secure Rural Schools payments each year. However, since the amendment also includes a new formula for determining payments that takes into account the acreage of National Forest lands in each state, Alaska actually will see a significant increase in payments in each of the five years.
In addition, beginning in fiscal year 2008, the amendment will provide five years of full funding of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), as was authorized by Public Law 97-258. PILT is a federal program that provides payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries. PILT payments help local governments carry out such vital services as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations.
“The federal government owns some 273 million acres of Alaska land in parks, forests, wildlife refuges and BLM lands,” said Senator Murkowski. “It is only equitable that the federal government contributes its fair share to Alaska communities for the lands it owns. The amendment would ensure that PILT is funded at its fully authorized level for five years.”
Overall, with this amendment, approximately $4.7 billion will be provided for rural schools and counties through fiscal year 2012 by fully funding PILT (approximately $1.8 billion) from 2008 to 2012 and by reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act through 2011 (approximately $2.9 billion).