Last minute wheeling and dealing by legislators in the late hours of the just-completed Legislative session almost cost Crook County schools a lot of money.
>The Oregon Senate's attempt to redirect a portion of federal timber receipt funding from counties to the state school fund lost in the waning hours of the just-ended session
Senate 486 would have redistributed the federal forest revenues included in last year's federal "safety net" legislation approved by Congress. That law was designed to help replace lost timber receipts. Since early in the last century, each year the federal government returned 25 percent of revenues from timber receipts to help pay for public schools and county roads. That funding almost disappeared in the early 1990s when timber harvesting was cut back. With approval of a Congressional action, the legislation gave impacted counties safety net funding to help make up the losses.
Originally, forest revenue funds were to be distributed in a set formula; 60 percent to county roads, 25 percent to schools and 15 percent to environmental projects within the individual counties. Crook County's share is about $3.4 million. For Oregon, the Safety Net funds total $5.2 billion. SB486 would have changed the original formula.
Philip Bransford, Communications officer with the Oregon Association of Counties (AOC), explained that SB 486 had passed the Senate but when it got to the House, a series of amendments were offered up. "Last minute attempts to change the formula for distribution of the federal Safety Net funds could have made a number of changes."
Under SB486, the formula would change the distribution in such a way that Crook County would have lost school funding.
Instead of 25 percent of the Safety Net revenues going to the school district, half of that would have gone into the state school fund and been distributed statewide. That change would have hurt the local school funding picture, but would have helped other school districts.
County Judge Scott Cooper said he understands why both of our legislative delegation, Sen. Ted Ferrioli and Rep. Greg Smith, voted for SB486. "It was good for their Crook County constituents, but we're not the whole ball game. That's one of the problems of being such a large district; our problems are not the same everywhere."
And school funding is very different in, for example, Grant County, than Crook County. Here, Cooper pointed out, our school needs are a lack of capital funds. In Grant and other counties with declining populations, the needs are for basic operating funds.
However, even with the last minute wheeling and dealing that took place in the closing hours of the 71st Legislative Session, members of the House were able to kill action on the proposed legislation and the original distribution formula stands.