Sunday, August 13, 2006

Catching Up: NW Sens Save Rural Timber $$, For Now

This is a post about 5 days late in coming in overall importance, but it kept getting pushed back by Lamont- and Westlund-related 'hot' postings. I'd normally avoid it altogether and let Rogue Pundit, still king of Southern Oregon blogs, handle it with his posting, but I have some SenQuote to add so I'll contribute to the din.

For those catching up (or who went right by the Rogue Pundit link without tipping him), when the timber industry crashed the federal government sought to ease the sting by providing "rural county timber payments," essentially subsidies in small areas where timber predominated and now funded under the (deep breath) Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Only this past budget year, President Bush decided to trim about $400 million in payments nationally. Amazingly but not surprisingly, Oregon's total is about $270 million of that, so you can imagine how important it is to our rural counties, especially the schools in this era of curtailed state funding.

I say this a tad cynically, but nothing brings together politicians on opposite sides of the aisle like free government money. There is pork and there is pork of course; funding for schools in our neediest areas is 100 times better spent than another nuclear sub, and IMO is the price we should agree to pay as a result of the logging restrictions that hampered the industry. It's nonetheless a giveaway that Sens Wyden (D) and Smith (R) of Oregon are fighting together for (along with Larry Craig (R) of Idaho), so on this one it's easy to put aside the partisan knives for the most part.

Still, you can see a difference of philosophy in the respective statements. Wyden, who did by far the most complaining about the cuts by threatening to block related nominees until the funding was restored, goes first:
I am pleased that Senator Smith and I were able to get the attention of the Administration on this issue that is so critical to rural communities across Oregon. As a result of this commitment, I have agreed to lift my holds on all Interior and Agriculture nominees. At home I have heard from school administrators who have told me that they would have to cut down the school week and from county officials who have predicted major cuts in critical services ranging from prosecutors to law enforcement officers. This agreement will help ensure that these situations do not occur.
This is simply smart legislating: fighting for people who need basic services in your constituency. Gordon Smith seems to agree, but is more reluctant and skeptical of keeping the teat open:
We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I wish our forest industries were healthy enough that we never needed a county payment program. But the fact is that we do need one and while I’d prefer a long-term solution, we have to make sure our communities can get by in the here and now.
Fair enough--it's a rare disagreement of opinion with Smith where I don't feel the issue has been demagogued. Subsidizing industry can be a slippery slope, so he's right to be concerned about funding states like this in visible perpetuity. But you can see the difference in tone--Smith nearly has to be dragged along to help tend to the economic concerns of Oregonians, particularly those often neglected compared to the big cities. This is one bill that helps only the rest of the state--supposedly Smith's bread and butter--and yet it's that damn liberal elitist Wyden who stepped up for all those Bush voters and protected their interests. Remember who fought and who went along for the ride when it comes time to vote that junior Senate seat in 2008...