Here's the problem. In some counties in western states, most of the land is federal timberland and these counties are not able to collect property taxes on the government owned land leaving few options to finance schools, roads, and public safety. Because of this, federal aid has been used to help finance necessary services in these areas. Under the Bush budget proposal, these funds are scheduled to be cut in half and then eliminated. This threatens a return to days not so long ago when revenues for rural counties were linked to timber sales and all the bad incentives this method of funding brings about:
Swinging a budget ax at Oregon's timber towns, Editorial, The Oregonian: President Bush's proposed budget hits ... where it most hurts:... in ... cash-strapped schools and ... struggling rural communities. The Bush administration's ... budget ... includes a plan to cut in half, and ultimately phase out, the program that compensates rural, timber-dependent counties in 39 states for federal timberlands that generate no property taxes.
Bush's proposal threatens ... federal aid now received by rural ... counties and schools. It also promises to rip open old wounds by linking support for rural counties to the sale of public lands and eventually reconnecting federal aid to timber harvest. Bush and his undersecretary of agriculture, Mark Rey, are proposing to lead ... the West back to the days when rural towns -- and particularly schoolkids -- were used as pawns in fierce battles about public-lands logging. ...
It's not just the money, although the Bush proposal will bite deep into road, school and public safety funds. The cut also threatens a newfound cooperation across much of timber country. ... The Bush administration seems intent on reigniting the public-land disputes of the past. Its plan to require the selloff of unidentified "isolated or inefficient to manage" public lands to fund the compensation of counties is pure ideological genius, if one of your objectives is to liquidate public lands...
For decades the money provided to counties came from a share of the receipts from federal timber sales. Then timber sales on federal lands collapsed because of the spotted owl protections and other environmental restrictions. Timber receipts plunged. ... [A] bipartisan coalition of lawmakers pushed through the county payments program in 2000, even though environmentalists attacked the idea of creating local forest planning groups.
There still is no better way to compensate forest counties, or to encourage local people ... to come together to support forest improvement projects. These communities have suffered wrenching economic changes. They have struggled to keep their schools open five days a week, and to maintain their roads and other basic public services. Many urban [residents] have long forgotten them.
Now the president has, too.