Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Program brings about $800,000 per year to Baker County for road work

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill extending the county payments program for another year.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to pass it.

County payments, more formally known as the Secure Rural Schools Act, has been around for a dozen years. The basic idea is that the federal government sends money to counties that have large amounts of tax-exempt federal land, in particular forest land.

Baker County is about equally divided between public and private land.

Until the amount of logging plummeted on national forests about 20 years ago, counties received a significant amount of money from their 25-percent share of logging revenue.

County payments was intended to replace that lost money.

Although Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., applauded the one-year extension, he also argued that the program can't continue indefinitely. Walden said the better long-term option is to increase the amount of logging on national forests.

"This measure provides short-term relief to rural communities teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," Walden said during House floor debate on the one-year extension. "But let's be clear: this help is a lifeline, not a lifeboat. The status quo of asking Uncle Sam for a check year after year is not sustainable. However, managing our federal forests to create jobs and revenue? That's sustainable."