When I became Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in January of this year, I had one primary goal: to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have the policies in place that they need to feed, fuel, and clothe the nation while ensuring stability and consistency for farmers, ranchers, consumers, markets, and rural communities. After all, agriculture is the foundation of our livelihood and the lifeblood of rural America. And, while our work will never be done, we are off to a great start.
Committee Passes Rural Schools Legislation
Washington, D.C. — Today, the House Agriculture Committee passed by voice vote legislation (H.R. 2389) which would provide rural areas with financial stability in revenues used for local schools and roads.
Because the Forest Service is the dominant landowner in many rural communities, and localities are powerless to tax the agency, since 1908 the government has shared twenty-five percent of the revenue derived from national forest activities with the surrounding localities. The communities then use this revenue to finance schools and local roads.
In recent years, however, federal forest revenues have plummeted by more than 75 percent from historic averages and the payments have dropped in some communities by as much as ninety percent. Schools have cancelled classes, cut teachers, eliminated extracurricular activities, and cut corners in every conceivable way to keep their doors open. Local economies have been decimated and families dislocated as parents desperately seek to make ends meet.
"Like the Coalition, I believe that the future stability of rural education and the quality of life in rural forest communities is, and always will be, tied to the sensible management of our forest resources," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) said. "I applaud their efforts and look forward to working with them to see this important legislation through to passage and enactment."
H.R. 2389, the County Schools Funding Revitalization Act of 1999, is premised on a set of carefully crafted compromise principles adopted by the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, a unique and diverse, grass-roots coalition of over 550 local and national organizations representing rural communities in 36 states, and including such national partners as the National Education Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and various labor organizations. The bill stabilizes payments to counties for five years while representatives of rural communities and school districts work with the Administration and Congress toward a new policy to improve county payments for the long term.
"This bill is representative government at its best," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. "Local leaders identified their problem, crafted a solution, and made sure it worked for all regions of the country. Today's unanimous passage and bipartisan support sends a clear message to the President that he should reconsider his threat to veto this vital legislation."