There's been plenty of news lately about the "county payments" issue - and how, apparently, a Bush administration decision is going to decimate funding for a bunch of county governments in Oregon.
OK, so what is this issue - and how did this happen?
In an Oregonian op-ed, Edwin Battistella explains it succinctly:
How we got here is a long story. More than half of Oregon is federal land. In the 1860s, the government granted about 4 million acres of Western Oregon forestland to what soon became the Oregon & California Rail Road Co. to promote construction of a rail line from Portland to California. The company managed the land so corruptly that President Theodore Roosevelt intervened, and much of the land was eventually returned to public ownership. The result was that taxable property at the county level was cut nearly in half.
Part of a century-old deal was that logging revenue from this land would be shared by the federal government with local counties. For almost 90 years, timber revenue far outpaced local property taxes in much of rural Oregon. But in the 1990s, timber revenue declined by about 70 percent, and today property taxes are the main source of local revenue. Until this year, however, a remnant of the timber payments continued as safety-net funding for counties under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
This act was passed at a time when the federal budget had projected surpluses. Now Congress has chosen not to reauthorize it. Of course, it's not just one county in Oregon that will be affected. Altogether, 700 counties in 39 states are facing crises because of the act's demise. But Oregon will be the hardest hit: Last year Oregon counties received more than $149 million; California was second with about $66 million.
How bad is it?
In Jackson County, they're planning on shutting down - entirely - the 15-branch county library system on April 7. The rest of Edwin's op-ed is about that issue. Read it here.