New Plan Would Solve County Payments Impasse
Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild: 503.283.6343 ext 212
Randi Spivak, Geos Institute: 310.779.4894
Local, state, and national groups unveil plan to replace federal subsidies without resorting to clear-cutting public lands
Eugene, OR — As Oregon county governments receive their last checks from federal taxpayers under the expired county payments program, a coalition of six local, state, and national conservation organizations today unveiled a balanced, three-pronged strategy to solve the looming county funding crunch. With uncertainty around Congress extending this important program, the groups are promoting a shared responsibility approach, where county governments, the State of Oregon, and the federal government would each take responsibility for resolving a portion of the problem.
This common-sense proposal stands in stark contrast to a vague plan being developed by Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and the House Republican leadership. They propose re-linking county funding to clear-cutting on public lands, and weakened endangered species and clean water protections.
The Shared Responsibility plan would restore county funding through:
• Administrative savings secured through the transfer of Bureau of Land Management forestlands to the U.S. Forest Service.
• A modest increase in the Oregon State Forest Products Harvest Tax, given the windfall from increases in log prices and booming exports to China.
• A small increase in local government property tax rates from existing but presently unused taxing authority.
• Increased ecological restoration that will create jobs while restoring forests and watersheds.
“The DeFazio bill is the wrong approach. We can’t clear-cut our way to prosperity,” observed Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild. “There is a world of difference between the sustainable, restoration-based forest management that Oregonians support and this proposal re-linking county funding to clear-cutting and weakened environmental safeguards on our public lands.”
“This proposal will split the baby. It is based on failed policies of the past, that counties can log their way out of the problem,” said Randi Spivak, VP Government Affairs, Geos Institute. “Instead of effectively giving away public forests, there are better solutions that share the responsibility and are fair to national taxpayers, benefit the counties, clean water, salmon and wildlife.”
For decades, counties with O&C lands received funding based on the amount of timber harvested from these federal public lands. The epidemic of logging in the 1970s and 1980s inflated county budgets but also polluted thousands of miles of Oregon’s rivers and severely damaged fish and wildlife habitat. Strong public opposition finally brought an end to rampant clear-cutting in the 1990s – and the money going to counties from timber sales shrank. Congress cushioned the fall by instituting Secure Rural Schools legislation, first passed in 2000, to help transition the counties away from dependence on federal timber receipts. These county payments expired this January.
County governments have known that the expiration of payments from federal taxpayers was coming. Still, due to political opposition to tax increases and poor planning on the part of some county governments, many counties face insolvency in the coming year. Curry County in southwest Oregon faces the grimmest scenario in part because its residents pay the lowest property tax in the state. As the Shared Responsibility plan points out, if Curry and the other O&C counties were to pay their fair share (1/3) to replace county payments, proportionally the taxes on a median home in Curry County would have to rise $1.33/week—less than a cup of coffee.
The Shared Responsibility plan outlines three funding sources for the $110 million that the 18 O&C Counties have asked for. The proposal recognizes the need for county, state, and federal governments to provide stable county funding and a diversified economy without sacrificing the important financial and quality-of-life benefits that western Oregon forests provide. Current and former county commissioners have also expressed concern over re-linking county budgets to clear-cut logging on public lands. While not endorsers of the Shared Responsibility plan, here is what some of them had to say.
Pete Sorenson, long-time Lane County Commissioner: “Clean drinking water, fish and wildlife, and the natural amenities of our forests bring jobs and investment to Oregon. Grand plans for linking our funding to unsustainable logging only provide false hope to Lane and other counties.”
Peg Reagan, former Curry County commissioner and director of the Conservation Leaders Network: “With a slow housing market and limited demand for domestic timber, there is just no way that increased logging can match what counties were receiving from Secure Rural Schools payments. We need a balanced solution to help counties avoid bankruptcy – we can’t ask our forests to make the only sacrifice.”
• Find a brief fact sheet on the proposed DeFazio logging trust plan here. http://www.oregonwild.org/oregon_forests/old_growth_protection/westside-forests/western-oregon-s-patchwork-public-lands/DeFazio_Logging_Plan_Fact_Sheet.pdf
• Curry County could make up its fair share (1/3) of lost Secure Rural Schools payments with a minor increase in property taxes comparable to an increase of $1.33 a week for a median priced home. Even at this increased rate, Curry County taxpayers would still pay approximately half of the Multnomah County property tax rate.
Facts and Figures:
• Josephine County’s property tax rate is 54% below the state wide average.
• If western Oregon BLM lands were held in private ownership, they would generate only $8 million in estimated annual tax revenue compared to the $110 million the counties are asking for.
• Transferring 2.6 million acres of BLM forestlands to the Forest Service will generate a savings of $113.3 million. In western Oregon, BLM spends 4.3 times more to manage an acre of land than the FS.