Timber payments not enough for county losses

Timber payments not enough for county losses 

Lane County, Ore., is facing a budget gap—and the money the county plans to make from Federal timber payments won’t be enough to close that gap. This is a problem that Washington, D.C., created—and now refuses to solve. Up to a few years ago, much of the budget for heavily forested areas like Lane County came from private enterprise: loggers paid to harvest timber growing on government land. But due to environmental regulation, once well-kept county forests have been allowed to run wild, increasing risks of wildfire and unstoppable tree diseases. And many counties—including Lane—have seen their revenue dry up. A Federal program designed to cover the shortfall will pay Lane about $3.5 million this year. That is a pittance compared to the $15 million difference between county revenues and expenditures in fiscal 2012.

And even that $3.5 million is about to go away, as the federal program to replace lost timber revenue goes away this year. One senator, Ron Lyken, is trying to pass a one-year extension, but even in the unlikely event that Lyken’s extension passes, most of the federal money is available for only a few limited areas of expenditure. It cannot be used for what the county needs most: schools and prisons. Patrols have been cut back to only six deputies, and 130 adult jail beds and half of the juvenile jail beds have been closed down.

The county may look to property tax hikes to cover the shortfall, but Lane County voters have only passed a quarter of the 12 requests for higher taxes that the county has made in the sixteen years since 1996.

Raise taxes, cut services, or deregulate. Any of these can close Lane County’s budget gap. So far, the county has only considered the first two; no one seems to have proposed the most obvious solution: eliminate the crippling over-regulation and allow counties to properly care for their forests once again.

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