EDITORIAL: Sustain in lieu funds

Public school districts and boards of supervisors in 33 Mississippi counties count on the success of a bipartisan congressional effort to gain renewal for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 in the president’s 2012 budget.
The act, which is a descendant of policies helping counties and schools started in 1908, must be renewed for funding at a level near the $33 million Mississippi can expect to receive until 2012.
Nationwide, 729 counties receive funding, and they would lose collectively $468 million per year starting in 2012 if the act is not renewed.
The program’s origins date to the great champion of conservation and political reforms, President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped pass an act setting aside for counties 25 percent of all the income derived from the sale of timber in the national forests. The money was designed primarily for schools and roads, and the rationale for the set-aside was that those lands would otherwise be unavailable as revenue producers for local governments.
The economic impacts would be ongoing without the funding, which is not unlike the in-lieu-of-tax tax payments made by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the non-taxable assets it holds in each of its service-area counties in Mississippi and six other southeastern states.
Every county with national forest lands receives in lieu payments from the secure schools and communities act. The 2000 version of the program revised the payment source because income from timber harvests declined because of national policies – but the school and county road needs did not diminish.
U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., is a point man in the House for gaining the program’s inclusion in the 2012 budget, which will be presented in 2011. Sen. Roger Wicker is a signatory to the letter sent to Obama requesting inclusion. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is also a supporter, and he is in a valuable position as the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
It’s estimated nationwide that job losses, sales losses and revenue declines would come to $1.37 billion, with government at all levels losing over $188 million in tax receipts, and over 11,000 people losing jobs.
In Mississippi, program revenue of $6.5 million his year would drop to $2.3 million in 2012, with Northeast Mississippi counties dropping from about $650,000 in 2011 to less than $150,000 in 2012.
In a time when Congress and the White House buzz about finding offsets to pay for programs, both also must consider what virtual program elimination means to local governments and public institutions relying on the concept for more than 100 years.

NEMS Daily Journal