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Update from the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition

posted Dec 30, 2011, 11:36 AM by Gary Jones
Senate Action

Since we last reported to you, the Campaign has been instrumental in working with Senator Ron Wyden and a bipartisan Senate team to draft S-1692 which provides for a five year extension of SRSCA at annually declining levels and PILT at full funding.  The funding for SRSCA contained in this bill is not what we had advocated for, but the bipartisan leadership team in the Senate insists that given the diminishing resources in the federal treasury, that this is their best offer.  The exact SRSCA funding in S-1692 begins in fiscal year 2011/ 2012 at $342 million a 5% drop from the 2010/2011 funding level, and then ramps down by 5% per year through 2016 , to $282 Million .  This reduction can be compared to the 2008 funding level of $500 Million.  Titles II and III remain the same as in the 2008-2011 bill.  Senate Leadership has been very direct in indicating that this is the final reauthorization of SRSCA that they will consider.

We do not expect to see this legislation move as a stand-alone bill, given the current pre-election  climate in the Senate.  However, it is logical to expect that the language contained in S-1692 will be incorporated in a much larger, more comprehensive legislative package in early 2012, such as one of several tax packages Congress is expected to consider.  Stay closely tuned between now and April.

House of Representatives Action

As we write this update there are now two pieces of legislation being finalized in the House of Representatives that address the reauthorization of SRSCA.

The leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee (Chairman Doc Hastings R-WA) and the leadership of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health (Chairman Rob Bishop R-UT) are in the final days of drafting a comprehensive forest management bill that includes an extension of SRSCA and proposes to revitalize the rural economic base by significantly increasing active management of non-wilderness federal forest lands on both U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands.  This bill in draft form provides  "bridge funding" to counties and schools (Title I only) while the U.S. Forest Service and BLM gear up for a significantly more active timber management program designed to both generate needed county and federal revenues and simultaneously address a serious backlog of forest health issues.  A hearing and mark-up of this bill in Committee is tentatively slated  following  the Christmas recess.  PFRA Campaign staff has been told that House Committee Leadership intends to move this bill out of Committee quickly and have it ready for future House floor action at the most opportune time.  Finally, the draft copy of the legislation shared with us over the last several weeks did not have a funding amount included, so at this point, leadership has not made a final decision regarding the amount and duration of the county and school funding to be included.  Likewise, a preliminary draft copy proposes no changes to Titles II or III or PILT. 

A second bill was introduced last week by Representative Martin Heinrich D-NM. This bill is a companion to the Senate bill sponsored by Senator, Jeff Bingaman, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  This legislation, like the Senate version, proposes to extend the current SRSCA Act for 5 years at the same funding level specified in the Senate version and also contains a five year extension of PILT at 100% funding.  If and when a hearing may be scheduled on this bill is unknown at this time.

The End Game - January-March 2012

Needless to say, over the next three months we need both the Senate and the House to take action at the Committee levels for their respective approaches to reauthorization.  Then the leadership of both branches of Congress needs to negotiate a common bipartisan compromise.   So, while we have made progress, and the momentum is moving in the right direction - our concerted, well planned actions over the next several months will determine the fate of SRSCA reauthorization.  .

This bulletin was delayed for almost two weeks while we worked hard and explored every possibility to include SRSCA reauthorization in either the 2012 appropriations bill or the payroll tax cut extension legislation that was moving and in play this past week. We had high hopes for a Merry Christmas, but In the final analysis, SRSCA was not included in the appropriations package that passed Congress or the tax cut extension bill that bogged down and failed amid a partisan meltdown. 

When Congress returns in January, a bipartisan Southern focused “Dear Colleague Letter”   signed by Representatives Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Mike Ross (D-NC), and Heath Shuler (D-NC) will be circulated to Members of the House.  Obtaining as many signatures from SRSCA receiving members of Congress as possible will be our number one priority in January.  This is the first step in a full court press strategy to assist the leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee to move their Forest Health and Forest Jobs legislation out of committee and position it for floor action as soon as possible.

We are confident that there will be opportunities for including SRSCA/PILT in large legislative packages in the next several months and we need to be ready to activate our historically effective grassroots efforts at the right time.  Stay Tuned!!!