Idaho’s senators say they are close to securing a short-term funding fix for schools in timber country.
They say a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program is part of the end-of-year funding package Congress will consider later this week. The House Tuesday passed spending bills that included the two-year extension, Rep. Mike Simpson said.
Since 2000, the SRS program has funded counties and schools in Idaho and across the country — to offset revenues lost due to declining timber sales on federal lands.
Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley hailed the extension, as did Simpson.
“Nearly two-thirds of Idaho is federally owned, which severely limits the tax base for roads, law enforcement and schools because federal lands contribute no property taxes,” Crapo said. “A two-year extension of SRS funding is one step closer to a more predictable source of funding for rural communities and school districts encompassed by federal land.”
“Every year, the fight for SRS funding seems to get a little tougher, and every year, our rural communities need that security and certainty just a little bit more. I consistently hear from Idaho counties that without increased timber production they depend on SRS to get by, which is why Sen. Crapo, Wyden, Merkley and I work so hard on SRS reauthorization each Congress,” said Risch.
It’s unclear how much money Idaho will receive from a two-year extension. Those numbers probably won’t be available for a couple of months, Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said Tuesday.
But the most recent SRS payments went out earlier this year. Idaho schools received $6.4 million.
The bulk of Idaho’s SRS payments go to school districts that sit near national forests, districts such as Mountain View, Salmon and McCall-Donnelly.
A bipartisan group of 31 senators wrote a letter to Senate leadership in October, requesting the two-year extension.
While the extension would fund the SRS program in the short term, Idaho and Oregon senators have collaborated on a long-term proposal. The lawmakers hope to convince Congress to create a $7 billion endowment, and use the proceeds to provide indefinite payments to counties and schools.