One year is not enough

Wednesday's announcement that the latest version of the Iraq war funding bill will include just one year of county timber payments means Oregon's timber counties won't get the help they need to forestall devastating budget cuts.

Members of Oregon's congressional delegation have vowed to keep fighting for a longer extension of the payments, as they should. One year is simply not enough. But their chances of success appear slim.

The one-year extension was the result of a conference committee ironing out the differences between House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill. The Senate had approved a five-year extension, which would have given the counties breathing room to come up with a long-term solution to support vital public services.

Let's be clear about one thing. The federal payments, especially those that go to Oregon counties such as Jackson and Josephine that contain former Oregon & California Railroad lands, are not "welfare." They are the result of a contract Congress agreed to after the federal government took back the lands earlier deeded to the failed railroad company. Continuing the payments shouldn't even be subject to debate.

But the reality is that the debate will continue. In the meantime, the struggling counties can look forward to getting a sip of water when their reservoirs are dry.

Because of its larger population, relatively healthy economy and fiscal foresight by county officials who built up a rainy-day fund, Jackson County is better off than some of its cohorts. Josephine County has laid off 42 sheriff's deputies, ended patrols and virtually shut down its jail. Curry County, which has lost 68 percent of its general fund, also has no sheriff's patrols, and has asked the National Guard to provide security for coastal residents.

Jackson County closed its libraries and plans to lay off nine sheriff's deputies, road workers and other employees for a total of 172 positions.

There are those in Washington. D.C., who will paint the one-year extension as a great day for rural counties. Meanwhile, back here in Mudville, there is little joy.

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