04.29.16

Peters Urges Reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools Program

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today joined a bipartisan group of Senators urging Senate leaders to work to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for Fiscal Year 2016. SRS helps pay for schools, roads, forest health projects and emergency response services in rural counties that include national forest land, which is not subject to property taxes. The SRS program expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2015, and as a result, many forest counties in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula may face steep budget shortfalls. Michigan is home to three national forests – the Hiawatha National Forest, Huron-Manistee National Forest and Ottawa National Forest.

“The SRS program continues to be a critical safety-net for forest counties as we work to diversify rural economies, improve forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies,” wrote Peters and his colleagues. “We urge you to work in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize the SRS program for FY 2016 and into the future and we stand ready to work with you in support of this important program.”

Prior to the SRS program, counties would receive 25% of receipts from timber on federal land because these lands are not taxed at the local level. However, a gradual decline in timber sales resulted in counties receiving significantly less revenue. In response, the SRS program was created in 2000 and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to provide consistent and reliable funding for more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools located near national forests across the country.

If the SRS program remains expired, counties that normally receive support through the SRS program would revert to the previous system. As a result, many counties in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula would see sharp reductions in revenue, and critical county programs and services may be severely cut or even cancelled.

According to the National Association of Counties, Wexford and Manistee Counties may face a nearly 70% reduction in receipts, Crawford County would see a nearly 40% receipt reduction, Oscoda County would face a 37% reduction, and Chippewa County would see an over 18% receipt reduction. In the Upper Peninsula, Baraga County may a face an over 50% reduction in receipts, Alger County would see a 46% receipt reduction, Ontonagon and Gogebic Counties would face an over 35% decrease, and Delta County would see an over 18% receipt reduction.

Last August, Peters joined twelve of his colleagues in introducing legislation to reauthorize and fund the SRS program for six years, permanently reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and permanently fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

You can read the full letter below, or click here:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Reid,

In March of 2016, the last authorized payments to forest counties and schools under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) were distributed by the federal government. Today, we write to express our concern that the Secure Rural SRS was not reauthorized for Fiscal Year 2016. The SRS program provides crucial support to forest counties, local schools, transportation infrastructure, law enforcement and other county services in more than 720 counties and 4,000 school districts, impacting nine million students across 41 states. Unfortunately, the SRS program expired on September 30, 2015 and has yet to be reauthorized.

For almost 100 years, the federal government has shared 25 percent of federal forest revenues with counties to compensate them for federal ownership of forests that cannot be taxed at the local level. Although these lands are exempt from property taxes, county governments must still provide many essential services to millions of national forest visitors each year.

SRS was first enacted in 2000 as local governments faced steep reductions in timber revenue sharing. Current revenue sharing payments are no longer sufficient to support the services forest counties must provide.

According to the National Association of Counties, when the authorization for SRS lapsed in FY 2014, forest payments to counties decreased by over 80 percent. As a result of the sudden decrease in forest payments, counties and school districts nationwide faced dramatic budgetary shortfalls. Many began preparations to halt infrastructure projects, terminate employees, cancel teacher contracts, and reduce numerous other critical local services. In that instance, Congress reauthorized the SRS program retroactively and provided full SRS payments to counties. However, in many cases services had already been impacted in counties and school districts.

The SRS program continues to be a critical safety-net for forest counties as we work to diversify rural economies, improve forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies. We urge you to work in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize the SRS program for FY 2016 and into the future and we stand ready to work with you in support of this important program.

Sincerely,

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