Harney County Judge Steve Grasty makes presentation before U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
Oregon county commissioners and members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation made a compelling argument for a long term reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act during a roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last Friday in Portland.
The elected Oregon officials were joined in their request by representatives of Trout Unlimited, the Wilderness Society and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
“We asked Secretary Vilsack to include a long-term reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in the President’s 2012 budget,” Harney County Judge and Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) President Steve Grasty said following the meeting. “He seemed receptive to the concept, and we hope that translates into concrete action.”
“Everyone has a stake in the survival of rural America,” Secretary Vilsak said. “I’m here on your side.”
Federal agencies are currently working on the final drafts of their 2012 budget requests, which will go the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by Labor Day. Having a commitment from Secretary Vilsack would be a major step forward for the reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools to be ultimately included in President Obama’s 2012 budget request to Congress.
“We tried to convey the urgency that these programs are a lifeline for the people of Oregon. On our watch, we are going to prosecute the case relentlessly to insure that a historical compact is honored. This is the No. 1 priority for Oregon’s Congressional delegation,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR said.
Secretary Vilsack and the members of Oregon’s congressional delegation briefed 38 elected Oregon county commissioners and judges from 24 of Oregon’s 36 counties Friday. Thirty-three of Oregon’s 36 counties receive funding under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, who is also president of the Association of O&C Counties, told the secretary and members of Congress that reauthorization is vital to preserving vital public services in impacted Oregon counties.
Robertson said “It was a very frank discussion, a good dialogue between the secretary and the commissioners. He (Secretary Vilsack) came away with a very different view of Oregon than when he came to the state.”
Judge Steve Grasty told Secretary Vilsack that rural communities will be adversely impacted economically and roads in and out of federal land will suffer from a lack of maintenance if Secure Rural Schools isn’t reauthorized. Clackamas County Commissioner Bob Austin said Secure Rural Schools impacts 39 other states, notably California, Washington and Idaho as well as Oregon. “The Secretary heard us,” Austin said, “and asked for more of the human side of the story.”
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-OR said Secretary Vilsack challenged the Oregonians in the roundtable to tell their stories so the president and other members of Congress will get a better understanding of the challenges Oregon faces with the potential loss of Secure Rural School payments. Rep. Schrader was instrumental in setting up the round table with Secretary Vilsack, his colleagues in Congress and the county officials.
“We deeply appreciate Congressman Schrader’s efforts on our behalf,” said AOC Executive Director Mike McArthur. “He’s brought a hugely important issue to the attention of the Secretary of Agriculture and hopefully, the President will respond.”
O&C Executive Director Rocky McVay offered that Oregon’s entire Congressional delegation has been working tirelessly for a long term reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools.
“This was a great opportunity for our members of Congress to express their commitment to the secretary,” he said.
Many of the county commissioners who participated in the roundtable offered personal stories from their counties on the loss of the federal funds. Lake County Commissioner Dan Shoun said, “I think the secretary left with a much better appreciation of the situation.”
Klamath County Commissioner Cheryl Hukill said, “The stories Secretary Vilsack heard about the impacts on children and public safety made a deep impression on him.”
The current act expires Sept. 30, 2011. The final 2011 payments will be distributed in January 2012. Oregon has historically received an average of $250 million a year from Secure Rural Schools. That amount represents the revenue lost from the unprecedented reduction in timber harvests.