Breaking: Wyden Brokers Deal on County Payments

While Gordon Smith dithers, Ron Wyden leads.

Senator Wyden has just announced a multi-year deal on the county payments issue - along with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), and Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), three critical players.

The proposal, to be included in the supplemental budget bill, will commit $5 billion to rural communities through 2012 - over $1 billion of which will head to Oregon.

From the statement, just released:

“I applaud Senator Wyden's persistence in fighting for Oregon's rural communities,” Reid said. “This Democratic package represents a renewed Federal commitment to the people of Oregon, the rural West and the nation. Though we still have a ways to go to get this into law, I am hopeful that our proposal, including a significant and long-term increase in funding for Payments in Lieu of Taxes, will make a very positive impact on rural America."

“Today’s proposal is a good example of what working together can accomplish,” Baucus said. “I’m glad that we’ve reached an agreement to pump more dollars into our rural counties while keeping our public lands intact. The Administration challenged Congress to develop a plan to fund this program without selling public lands. That’s what we’ve done.”

“With Senator Reid’s leadership we have crafted a lifeboat to keep rural communities afloat,” Wyden said. “This proposal will mean more than $1 billion for Oregon schools, public safety, roads, and other essential county services. It couldn’t come at a more critical time.”

We'll update here with more coverage as it becomes available. For an easy-to-understand primer on county payments, head to Ron Wyden's Stand Tall for America website.

  • (Show?)

    Wow. This is HUGE news and a major victory for rural Oregon. Great job, Senator!

  • (Show?)

    Gee, an "urban elitist" senator scores a huge victory for Oregon, saving a lot of rural Oregonian's bacon in the process.

    Wyden leads while Smith spins like a top in the political winds.

    Congrats Senator Wyden.

  • Cleo Van Cleklioz (unverified)

    Does anyone know if Wyden is Heterosexual?

  • BlueGuy (unverified)

    This is what's so great about controlling Congress - we can engineer "victories" like this any time we like and make our side look effective, regardless of the reality.

    Way to use that majority to posture in the press! Great work. If only we had two Dem senators, we could do this twice as often.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)

    Breaking News: PERS finally found a funding source. Now all State Employee Retirees can order their new Lexus.

  • josh (unverified)

    Read the entire press release. It is DeFazio's comments that are interesting. It really is looking like he is in.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    This is at least the fourth time in the last year+ that there's been an agreement to extend county payments, and it's not the first one that Wyden has been involved with and publicized (though this one is for five years). Maybe a deal will actually come to pass this time...I certainly hope so. But it's way too early to be trumpeting a victory.

  • gt (unverified)

    I love it how we are held slave to the government. They take all our money then we have to beg like little baby robbins for a little piece of worm.

  • JMG (unverified)

    I expect to open the Oregonian tomorrow and see a photo of Gordon Smith and a caption about how he saved the timber payments. What IS it about him and the Big O -- does he have naked photos of the publisher in compromising positions? The amount of ink/photos/credit/boosting they give him, and the depths to which they will go to defend him against his own contradictions are astonishing. It would make an interesting project for a J school to simply go back and compare and contrast all the coverage Smith and Wyden have received since they first announced for Senate.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    Wow, some amazingly off-topic comments in this thread, but anyway: what's the long-term picture? Is this entire issue going to rear its ugly head again in a few years, when the latest (apparent) deal expires? And more fundamentally, I would say, how can the economy of rural Oregon change so that rural counties can survive without these timber funds (which, let's face it, are no different than a farm subsidy)? Any economists and/or folks from relevant parts of Oregon who can comment?

  • owhn (unverified)

    Great job by Wyden, DeFazio and the Dems. Now I look forward to the front page story with pictures in today's East Oregonian telling us how Walden and Smith accomplished this by working dilengintly behind closed doors to accomplish this bi-partisan agreement.

  • Former Salem Staffer (unverified)

    I like the idea of industrial help, as all the hippies and loggers I talk to seem agreeable to it. The only obstacle, as always, would be the federal government. But if we gave them the choice between subsidizing us year after year or allowing us to be self-sufficient, they may change their minds. It's kind of absurd that we import all the hemp we use in the U.S. when Oregon could export it all over the world, create jobs and contribute to the federal tax base, rather than having a crappy economy and waiting for handouts. Besides, I've yet to see anybody else come up with any ideas....

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I grew up in Wheeler County on a cattle ranch. Wheeler is one of those historic timber counties, but the mill town ofKinzua closed in 1978.

    I don't applaud what our delegation is trying to do, which is Robbing Peter to pay Paul, or robbing the U.S. Treas. to pay counties. As Lin Qua said, it is a subsidy. Although I'm a Democrat, I wish they would allow more logging on Fed lands , or even sell some of them. My Dad and Uncle sell timber periodically and they make money or at least break even, and they always roll their eyes when Wyden, SMith and others talk about the need for funding for salvage logging (In the biscuit fire, for example.) The private sector would actually make money (or they wouldn't do it.)_and they would generate tax dollars for the counties.

    Of course, the voters reduced their own county funding when they voted for Measure 5 in 1990. Ironically, that was passed in the tri county area, not rural OR.

  • (Show?)

    It IS a subsidy, but right now it's all that stands between functioning government and abject disorder in some counties. It would be unconscionable to punish those residents because of poor foresight at home, or shenanigans in DC.

    I think Wyden has orchestrated the proper compromise: extend the payments into the near future, but gradually decrease them with the intent of phasing them out. Any county that doesn't smell what's cooking by 2012, I won't have sympathy for.

  • Zachary (unverified)

    Last fall in my county in Eastern Oregon we lobbied/pressured/etc the county commission to set aside a percentage of tax revenue from the wind farm (that is to soon be built) for a future renewable energy projects grant fund. Before eventually passing on the second try (yay!) one commissioner said she would vote no because "timber payments may be gone and then we will be in financial crisis."

    There are a variety of reasons this is interesting, but two things strike me first: 1) The utter dependence by our county (and probably other rural counties) on these payments is apalling. I know the argument--we can't log "our" land so we must be compensated--but regardless (not to mention that argument is highly flawed), my county and others must begin developing new income streams. The volatility associated with the up and down nature of these payments is not good for anyone. 2) Here is an opportunity, albeit just a cracked door, for Democrats to win over some rural, staunch Republicans. First, show fiscal responsibility by phasing these payments out, then rather than abandon these counties, show the principles of the Democratic Party by helping (through financial and technical assistance) these counties get on their feet and develop new revenue.


  • ExplainThis (unverified)

    So what is the story on this:

    VOTE ALERT: GOP & 11 Dems vote down property tax relief

    "Many states are struggling with high, regressive property taxes these days. In an effort to relieve that burden, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) authored legislation today on the floor of the Senate to provide $21.5 billion of property tax relief to states. Specifically, his bill would have restored the income tax rate on income above $1 million a year to pre-Bush-tax-cut levels, and put the $21.5 billion savings into grants to states for special education - the program that is directly connected to high property tax rates."

    "Sadly, this is not the whole story. Eleven Senate Democrats provided the margin for Republicans in killing this property tax relief bill."

    Ron Wyden was one of the 11 faithless Democrats who voted against the Democratic bill. This allegedly cost Oregonians $242,893,000 in property tax relief. Even Lieberman voted for it.

    What's up with this guy?

  • xxx (unverified)

    Zachary is absolutely right. Human beings, like other organisms, survive by going to where they can make a living. I'd love to wake up in Arcadia every day, but the jobs are here in the city. So why am I subsidizing rural Oregonians to live out there because, well, they like it there? They need to either generate some jobs or move where the jobs are, like everyone else in the world.

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