Thursday, January 25, 2007

With Western Help, OR Delegation Renews Timber Payments Fight

From the Mail Tribune in Medford, where it may rank 2nd only behind Iraq as the most pressing issue of the day, comes news of a trip once more into the breach: Oregon's Congressional delegation has picked up where they left off in the 109th Session, re-introducing bills to restore the federal "timber county" payments that currently prop up the budgets of several Oregon counties. Unlike in the rush at the end of the silly season (otherwise known as the midterm elections), however, this time the state's restoration proponents are getting some help from other western states:
Spearheading the effort on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., cited Jackson County as one of many in the state that depend on the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act.

"Another of our counties, Jackson County in Southern Oregon, is prepared to shut down all of its libraries and that will be coming up very shortly," he said.

Wyden and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., received support from California Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats.

The bill also was introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., and Jon Tester, D-Mont.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., also has been pushing legislation through the House to extend the federal program, which offsets financial losses brought on by restrictions on harvesting lumber. {links mine}
It's good to see both Washington senators on board with sponsorship; neither seat participated that way on the original bill in 2000. It's great to see new ally Jon Tester on the sponsor list; a little surprising to see Ted Stevens. Lisa Murkowksi's father cosponsored the original, but not Stevens. Now the seats have essentially switched places. And of interest from Idaho is that Larry Craig claims to support bill, but doesn't want to sponsor it because he thinks Oregon gets too much money out of the deal.

Ask Jackson County about that:
Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith welcomed news of the legislation to reauthorize the funding.

"This is the largest domestic funding crisis," he said, heartened to see senators from California also backing the legislation. "I'm glad to see our neighbors to the south finally woke up."

Smith said that if the funding was fully restored, libraries would not be closed.

However, if Congress only reauthorizes a one-year extension, he said the commissioners still might not be able to keep all the libraries open.

"It at least buys us some time," he said. "It might mean that we wouldn't have to close down all the libraries — and that's a big might."
Another curious thing is why the Trib sought to attach Walden's name to the House version of the bill, rather than DeFazio's--considering that DeFazio is the one carrying the bill. I'm not suggesting that Walden isn't working hard for passage--he is--but it's weird that they chose him to discuss instead of DeFazio, just because he's Medford's rep. Obviously they wouldn't likely mention Blumenauer's support given his distance from southern Oregon, but DeFazio's district is literally right next door to Jackson County, and as I said he's the one whose name is at the top. Not even a mention? Whatever.

The counties are definitely hoping for quick action, but Iraq threatens to almost singehandedly push most domestic agenda items off the table for the time being. Hard to fault them for prioritizing a Constitutional crisis, I guess. Wyden signals in the article that he's not forgetting the issue, however:
"We are trying to push this as fast as we can," he said.

He said continued pressure by counties has boosted the chances of the legislation passing. Wyden said that other financial pressures on the federal government shouldn't be allowed to undermine these efforts.

"If you're rebuilding Iraq, you should do something not to turn rural communities in Oregon and throughout the U.S. into sacrifice zones," said Wyden.
Sacrifice zones--niiice!