Off again: House knocks county payments out of budget bill

House leaders removed county payments from a tax bill today, despite the nod the Senate gave the proposal Tuesday.

The Senate bill would have extended a multiyear program of payments to rural counties — including Jackson County — hurt by federal logging cutbacks.

The Senate had approved a four-year, $3.3 billion extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 by a 93-2 vote. Facing opposition from representatives who threatened to rebel because the program's cost was not fully covered, the House bumped the program from the bill for the second time in four months.

The timber law provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Oregon, Idaho and other states, mostly in the West, that once depended on federal timber sales to pay for schools, libraries and other services in rural areas. Oregon reportedly gets $185 million a year for 33 of its counties. Jackson County received about $23 million from the timber payments program.

Lawmakers from both parties have tried for years to secure a long-term commitment for the program, which expired last year but was extended until the end of this month.

The law helps pay for schools and services in 700 counties in 39 states, the Associated Press reported. Without the money, teachers and law enforcement officers in rural districts throughout the country could lose their jobs and residents will face the sharp curtailment of services, lawmakers said.

— Anita Burke

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