Senate Approves Cantwell, Murray - Championed Deal to Save County Payments

Mar 28 2007

Senate votes to include 5-year extension in emergency appropriations bill

-- UPDATE: This supplemental funding passed the full Senate on 3/29/07 --

WASHINGTON, DC - Wednesday, the Senate voted 75 to 22 to include a five-year extension of the County Payments program in emergency appropriations legislation expected to pass Congress in the coming weeks. The five-year extension, sponsored by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and others, will keep forest communities from losing irreplaceable County Payment funds for schools, roads, and basic services.

"This critical extension will help keep our rural communities strong and represents an important investment in our future," said Cantwell. "If this successful program disappeared, a severe shortfall in funds for roads, schools, and emergency services would hit hundreds of our Northwest forest communities. This deal provides stability and an immediate fix to the dire budget crisis so many of our rural counties face. Today, we showed that we're committed to standing by the millions of hard-working rural Americans who count on this program."

"As a former educator, I am committed to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn, regardless of where they live. Today, the Senate overwhelmingly supported our amendment which provides rural counties with the revenue needed to ensure those opportunities for our children," said Murray. "By establishing a five-year extension of this critical program, our amendment gives rural counties the peace of mind that comes with sustained support. Our rural communities can now move forward with plans to improve education, upgrade roads, and provide critical public services."

Cantwell and Murray have long fought to renew and fully fund County Payments, which expired last year after years of supplying funding to the over 700 counties in 39 states. The Wednesday vote by the Senate to include the five-year extension in the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill represents a major victory for forest communities and will help provide them with a predictable stream of funding in the years ahead.

The new funding formula scales funding awarded under the current formula to the total acreage of Forest Service and BLM lands within each county. Under the formula, funding will also decrease gradually by ten percent each year through 2011. The decrease in funds will be partly made up for by an increase in funding for the Payments in Lieu Taxes (PILT) program—a separate program that compensates local governments for non-taxable federal land within their jurisdictions.

Under federal law, National Forest land cannot be taxed by counties or other state and local jurisdictions. In place of taxes, a100-year-old Forest Service policy shares revenue generated by timber harvests on federal lands near forest communities. Funds can be used for schools, roads, and essential services. As timber harvests declined during the 1990s due to changing Forest Service policies, hundreds of counties experienced a severe revenue loss. Since 2001, the County Payments program—along with PILT—has helped areas hit hardest by declining timber sales, providing more than $2 billion for schools and roads in communities nationwide.

For county-by-county figures of funds distributed under the County Payments program since 2004, visit: