Thursday, January 26, 2006

Credit where it's due

Ron Wyden, the Democratic Senator for Oregon, has been on my short list for a while for a variety of reasons. Number one of which involves prancing around showing off his pork to all the constituents of this fine state.
But he does do some things right. Or at least OK. He is actively trying to continue the program that funnels federal money to rural counties that maintain federal land. Some of the counties in Oregon and Washington have upwards of 50% of their land base covered by National Forests and BLM land. Since counties get their income from property and business taxes, that land is basically non-income generating. The counties that used to rely on that money to keep schools running and basic services coming are having a hard time making up the difference. Face it, folks, tourism and service industry are not taking up the slack there.
I'm sure the connection to logging scares some urbanites and environmentalists. But, this issue strikes at a key rural concern in most Western states, the high percentage of federal land and how that limits communities. Oregon is one of only five states where more than half of the land is owned by the federal government.
More than half of the land that makes up Josephine and Douglas counties in southern Oregon are covered by federal land.
Just in case you think that this is a recent phenomenon brought about by the decline of the federal timber sales in the last decade:
If it were not for this permanent reservation the lands would gradually pass into the hands of private individuals, lumbering and grazing industries would be built up and the lands would return considerable revenues to the States and counties in taxes. Under present conditions however, these vast areas produce no revenues to support the local governments.

To partially offset these perceived inequities, Congress acted in 1906 to set aside 10 percent of all money received from each national forest during any fiscal year, which was to be paid at the end of each year to the State or territory treasury, and to be expended as the State or territory prescribed for the benefit of public schools and public roads of the county or counties in which the forest reserve was situated.

So Wyden didn't think up this gem on his own, he's just continuing a pretty long tradition of compensating the counties that don't get income from land inside their borders. But at least he's actively seeing to the interests of all of the citizens of Oregon instead of just those in the upper Willamette valley.

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