I think that I shall never see/ a poem lovely as a pork barrel project
The latest attempt to look like the Bush administration supports education without actually having to come up with any real funding comes from the attempt to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, otherwise known as “Payments to States.” This law was meant to compensate states which received less revenue from declining timber sales on federal lands within their borders.
According to the Forestry Service’s website,
The President’s fiscal year 2007 budget includes a legislative proposal that would grant the Forest Service authority to sell small tracts of forest land that are isolated or inefficient to manage due to their location or other characteristics. The money received from the sales (up to $800 million) would go towards funding states and counties impacted by the loss of receipts associated with lower timber harvests on federal lands. The legislation would amend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for an additional five years.
First of all, one has to wonder why the timber sales declined in these areas. Could it be due to poor management and overharvesting, especially in Oregon and Washington, two states with strong ties to the lumber industry? These two states seem to be the big winners under the new bill. Second of all, does this really have much to do with schools in rural areas? Third of all, is this just using education as a ruse to cover up the transfer of pristine areas—which one could define as “isolated or inefficient to manage”—at "fire-sale" prices (sorry, couldn't help the pun) to the timber industry?
No one would argue that rural schools face serious deficits in funding, facilities, and equipment, but this land sale actually appears to be a chance to savage the environment while at the same time benefiting some states at the expense of others. The Seattle Pilot-Intelligencer has the full story here:
A Bush administration plan to sell more than 300,000 acres of national forest to help pay for rural schools contains a disproportionate amount of land in the South and Midwest - while primarily benefiting schools in three West Coast states, a new analysis shows.
Nearly 60,000 acres in 13 Southern states and another 50,000 acres in 10 Midwestern states would be sold under the plan, while just 18,000 acres in forest-rich Oregon and Washington would be sold, according to an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Southern states received $37 million for rural schools this year under the program the sales are intended to benefit, while the Midwest received $41 million, the analysis shows. Oregon and Washington got five times those amounts - $210 million, with Oregon alone receiving nearly $162 million.
About 80,000 acres in California would be sold; the state received nearly $69 million from the Forest Service this year.
Apparently, even some in the president’s own party are questioning, if not the ecological consequences, then at least the fairness of the new plan:
Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., also questioned the proposal, saying there was no guarantee that money generated by the sales would stay within Missouri.
"We need to see more of the benefit of this proposal than we are now seeing," Talent told Bush administration officials at a Senate hearing last week.
Under the Bush plan, 21,566 acres in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest would be sold, with proceeds going to a general fund. The sell-off would be one of the biggest in the country, while Missouri's share of the school-funding is among the lowest at $2.7 million.
"Our schools need the money," Talent said.
Now here’s the interesting tidbit (emphasis mine):
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, acknowledged the disparity, but said the law was devised to help those rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks on federal lands. Parcels proposed for sale are isolated, difficult or expensive to manage, or no longer meet Forest Service needs, Rey said.
"They are not evenly distributed" throughout the country, Rey said, although Congress could adjust the funding formula as it sees fit.
Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico also questioned the fairness of the new plan,
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the chief architects of the rural schools law, called questions raised by Talent and Domenici legitimate, and said they were a key reason he opposes the land sale plan.
"I don't want to pit your beautiful forest against school stability in Missouri," Wyden, a Democrat, told Talent at a Resources meeting last week.
About 10,500 acres in Oregon would be sold under the Bush plan.
Wyden and other Oregon lawmakers say the state receives so much money under the rural schools law because it was hurt the most by federal policies that restricted logging in the 1990s.
Other states "aren't half-owned by the federal government, and they didn't see a 95 percent harvest reduction on federal lands," as happened in Oregon and Washington, said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
Money from the six-year-old "county payments" law has helped offset sharp declines in timber sales in Oregon and other Western states in the wake of federal forest policy that restricts logging to protect endangered species such as the spotted owl….
…Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group, said Oregon is reaping what it sowed, when officials allowed its forests to be clear-cut for decades.
"Oregon benefited the most from the pillage of national forests that went on from World War II until ... the courts said they were breaking the law" in the late 1980s, said Stahl, whose group is based in Eugene, Ore.
Stahl said he considers the county payments law old-fashioned pork, Northwest style, and said the land-sale plan puts the law's inherent inequality in stark relief.
"Special places in other states are proposed to be sold so Oregon can get its pork," he said.
Carr, of the Southern environmental group, said he would oppose the sales even if funding formulas were adjusted to ensure more revenue for Southeastern states.
"We don't think they should be selling land in Oregon or Virginia or Alabama," he said. "The need is to fill in the gaps" of hard-won public land, "not get rid of what they've acquired."
You gotta admire the absolute efficiency of this scheme—it’s two for the price of one here: give the appearance of funding schools, and sell off lands that the government is not allowed to clear-cut. I especially like the irony of selling land that I could enjoy in order to provide a windfall to other states. Brilliant.