1999 Scorecard Vote
Nearly a century ago, the U.S. government decided to compensate communities adjacent to national forests for "lost revenues" from taxes that would be paid on the forests if they were privately owned. The county payments program currently derives more than 90 percent of its revenues from the sale of national forest timber. Under current law, the Forest Service must return 25 percent of all timber sale revenues to the 42 states and 714 counties that contain national forests to fund county roads and schools.
Environmentalists have criticized the county payments program as bad environmental policy. Not only does the program provide an incentive to communities to support more logging in their local national forests, but it also links the genuine needs of rural schools to the notoriously unpredictable timber market. Over the past decade, timber sales in the national forests have dropped from 12 billion board feet in 1989 to under four billion board feet in 1998. Moreover, changes in interest rates, national and international recessions, and changes in federal land management policy all contribute to year-to-year earnings fluctuations.
As a result, Congress has considered proposals to stabilize the current system of payments to states and counties. One such proposal was H.R. 2389, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 1999. Representatives Nathan Deal (R-GA) and Allen Boyd, Jr. (D-FL) sponsored the original bill. The bill that eventually went to the House floor was the result of a compromise between Representatives Deal and Boyd and a group of moderate Republicans.
H.R. 2389, as passed by the House, would guarantee counties $449 million annually--a $224 million increase over current payments. Unfortunately, the bill would do nothing to de-couple county payments from unpredictable and highly volatile timber receipts. Indeed, it would create additional incentives for logging, because counties receiving $100,000 or more in guaranteed payment would have to allocate 20 percent of those funds for projects in their national forests. These projects would be planned and recommended by local advisory committees that are exempted from federal open meeting requirements. The bill would set a troubling new precedent by transferring decisions about federal lands away from the federal government and allowing local interests to drive forest management decisions.
In addition, the bill would allow shortfalls in guaranteed payments to be paid out of other Forest Service programs, threatening funding for non-timber programs dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation and recreation.
On November 3, 1999, the House approved the Deal/Boyd bill 274–153. NO is the pro-environment vote.