House panel passes county payments bill

A bill that would extend federal payments to Oregon counties for lost timber revenues cleared the U. S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The Public Land Communities Transition Act of 2007 (H.R. 3058) would be reauthorized for four years of payments to rural counties and schools dependent on timber revenue from federal forest lands. Legislation signed by President Bush in June extended the county payments for only one year.

The bill has received the support of conservative Republicans, moderate Democrats and environmental groups.

"With passage in this committee, the sun has suddenly risen — there is a much brighter day out there," said 2nd Congressional District Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, a former member of the committee.

Basically, the act, which would fully fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, would provide some $400 million during the first year with a 10 percent reduction each subsequent year.

Using ballpark figures, Oregon could receive some $280 million the first year; $250 million the second; $230 million the third; and around $205 million the fourth year, according to Walden's office.

The 2nd district, which includes all of eastern Oregon as well as the lion's share of Jackson and Josephine counties, could receive about $80 million the first year.

There is no estimate for what Jackson or Josephine counties could receive. In the last fiscal year, Jackson County received roughly $23 million in the form of county payments from the timberlands.

The bill contains no fee increases for forest users, Walden said, adding there is also an opportunity to extend the act for five years. He cited other members of the Oregon delegation, specifically U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, for supporting the legislation.

"This is terrific news for the Northwest, and certainly Southern Oregon," Walden said.

A similar bill, backed by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate earlier this year.

Oregon Wild, a conservation group based in Portland, issued a statement supporting the bill late Wednesday afternoon.

"Rural communities throughout Oregon need help finding a stable funding source for education and other critical services," said Steve Pedery, the group's director.

"We applaud the hard work of Representative Peter DeFazio, Senator Ron Wyden, and others to help counties make the transition to a more sustainable future," he added.

The bill delinks funding for rural schools and other programs from funds generated by programs on federal public lands which include cutting old-growth timber, he said.

"Oregonians should not have to choose between funding rural programs and protecting salmon and clean drinking water," Pedery concluded.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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