Baucus Working to Reinstate $93.3 Million in Montana Funding

by jhwygirl

When a 4-year funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) was stripped from an energy bill last month just before the close of congress, 34 of Montana’s counties lost out on $93.3 million in funding.

Missoula’s share was nearly $2.7 million. Our FY 2007 SRS payment was $752 million.

This link will take you to a breakdown, by county, of funding for all states that received payments.

Funding was stripped because Senate Republicans objected to the inclusion – which Senator Baucus, chair of the powerful Finance Committee insisted on – of a $21.8 billion measure that included renewable energy tax incentives and repeal of $13 billion in tax breaks for big oil and gas. The White House threatened veto, and the Senate fell one vote short of the 60 votes it needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

The SRS originally expired in 2006, but received emergency funding for additional year. Now that has expired, and 13 western states face a yearly shortfall of nearly $410 million.

You might recall that last year President Bush proposed selling off $800 million in federal lands as a way of keeping the funding alive.

First signed into law in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, the SRS provides additional funding to rural counties that face shortfalls because of reductions in timber harvests. It isn’t just about school funding. In addition to providing funding for teachers, SRS pumps money into roads and emergency services and provides funding for local police and sheriff’s departments.

Showing his commitment to rural Montana and renewable energy, Senator Baucus is determined to push for the funding package. As chair of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus is in the right position to do that.

“Congress had a golden opportunity to do what’s right for rural America, but they chose to turn their backs on our Main Streets,” Baucus said. “This fight is far from over. We’ll come back and try again and again until we make our counties whole.”

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  1. wharf rat

    Hi Folks…

    Many rural counties here in Oregon, including Jackson, also depend heavily in SRS funds. Here the county closed libraries, laid off staff, cut back on sheriff’s patrols and the DA’s office. Curiously the ORV parks stayed open and staffed, the Commissioners budgets increased and the dept. heads got their usual and customary positive evals followed by raises. Oh, the community college also took a big hit. The Big O [The Oregonian] analyzed tax rates in SRS v. non-SRS counties and found, and I am shocked, that SRS counties have far lower property taxes….i.e. the citizens live high off the federal hog at someone else’s expense. Since SRS was not intended to be a permanent bailout for rural counties in the first place perhaps it is time to suck it up and establish tax rates that actually pay for county services or, maybe, do without!

    Regards,

    Wharf

  2. Oh, Wharf – how very wrong you are! (“i.e., the citizens live high off the federal hog at someone else’s expense….” “bailout for rural counties…”)

    Both PILT and SRS were established for rural counties that have large amounts of federal lands that are not taxed. SRS was added in 2000 to a much shorter list of counties because they have an extraordinarily high amount of federal lands v. private lands – those private lands being taxed, of course.

    Back in the days, counties were able to make up that tax shortfall via the jobs and industry that were created by the timber sales often held on federal lands. Those timber sales are barely there now – the feds have been reduced, in all practical terms, to thinning projects which actually cost the agency.

    That issue is much more complicated than what I’ve reduced the timber sale issue to in the above sentence, but the statement I’ve made is accurate.

    With all of the above being said, a county like Missoula, for example, must still provide services, end to end, for its citizens, its children. Because we are talking the west here, Wharf, people and taxable lands are spread out – and the benefits other places might get from having an economy, of sorts, by nature of the density of the masses, just isn’t there.

    County roads serve emergency needs – and can cut through and drive by large large swaths of untaxed land. Schools either must be built where they are needed, or children must be bussed long lengths. Parents rarely like that – and school buildings, in and of themselves, are far more efficient with the largest number of children being schooled. What do you do? Bus at huge expense both in fuel and safety, or build?

    You want to talk about bailout? A real bailout? Come on back – I’ve had something bouncing around in that empty head of mine for a few days.

    Peace.

  3. wharf rat

    JHWYgirl….no disrespect but you cannot expect rural counties to move into the future away from extractive and environmentally disastrous industries if you keep insisting on supporting transfers of resources to those counties. So the mill closed….life goes on, you do without, you move, you suck it up to pay increased taxes to pay for better services. The fact is that across the board counties with PILT and SRS payments have far lower property and local tax rates than do counties without PILT and SRS. This holds true across the western states. Rural county commissioners have built cozy empires on someone else’s money and now they have to face up to paying their own way. Perhaps all those wealthy Bitterooters, recent California and New York transplants with the half-million plus house could start paying a reasonable property rate.

    The notion your pushing, that all land within the county border should be taxed or have an equivalent payment, is a straw man. What’s the tax rate on private timber land, Plum Creek, et.al.? What would be the equivalent revenue if federal land was taxed at that rate? In Oregon, private timberland held for timber production is not taxed until harvest. Further, most counties provide minimal services on federal lands. Search and Rescue for the unprepared idiot who gets his snowmobile buried in an avalanche………bill the idiot, not the taxpayer.

    Bus or build? Let local taxpayers make that decision based on what they have to pay for either choice.

    I’m not unaware of the challenges in this issue having gone through 3 mill closures in Western Montana and participating in the WoodWorkers responses to peeler mill closures in Oregon. I was part of the O&C strategy sessions for a number of years. My experience is that many leaders in rural counties are unwilling to face up to their responsibilities to plan for the future of their counties. They don’t like enviros, they don’t like the fact that they are dependent for trade and commerce on places like Missoula or Eugene or Portland, and the continue to vote for Republicans like Bush who won’t help them while expecting Democrats to bail them out. I’ve heard plenty of comments about lazy blacks and mexicans on welfare from white office holders complaining about the lack of federal funding.

    The “Freakonomics” had an article in the Las Vegas Sun about the reasons to move to places like Vegas and Seattle….opportunity, better pay, choice, etc. The one that caught my eye and piqued my interest was the argument that rural areas are unable to grow and develop because the smart people leave, the flight of intellectual capital. How many of the top graduates of rural school districts stay put…..0%, 5%…..pretty low, I suspect.

    This is not the 1850’s, the opening of the West, Manifest Destiny and all that romantic bull is over. Grow up and don’t expect someone else to support you for years and years and years.

    Here’s my solution. Extend PILT/SRS/O&C for six years, have each county develop a transition plan to self-sufficiency, then provide substantial rewards based on the level of achievement. If that kind of reward is good enough for us teachers under NCLB it should be good enough for the Repubbies in the rural west.

    Best Regards

    Wharf

  4. Basically I pretty much agree with you Wharf – counties should have a pretty lean budget if they’re taking federal cash – but I do think that western rural states don’t have the same advantage with potential tax base as other states. It’s the way it is, the way the feds set it up in the first place.

    Here in Missoula they’re running some fantastic surplus – I don’t know what it is, but it was mentioned in the paper recently. That surplus isn’t any secret – I’ve heard talks about it for years now…but I’ve never seen a dollar figure. Wonder why?

    Montana ranks at the bottom of median income, regularly. 48, 49 or 50th – that’s been status quo for years. We lament the flight of intellectual capital, but yet do little to prevent it.

    Considering that the decline of resource-based industry didn’t just happen overnight, you’d think that more would be done? Right? But no, we emotionally tie ourselves like a lovelorn teenager to timber and logging and mining like it will come back because we wish it so.

    Meanwhile, the west could be key to the cleanest source of energy, wind….and wind energy isn’t really new, is it? How long does it have to exist for us (the west) to figure that out? For our elected officials? And let’s not forget that the largest growing industry in the west is recreation.

    Ultimately, I don’t think you (not “you” personally, but “you” generally) can overlook the inordinate amount of federal lands that western states have. It does receive services, and some gratis payment is warranted. Currently that amount is nowhere near equal to what would be collected if it were to be taxed.

    This link here will take to a search that allows you to see how much money was paid based on how much federal acreage.

    Peace.

  1. 1 Why Does Rehberg Hate Montana’s Rural Communities? « 4&20 blackbirds

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