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Reid, Baucus Behind Timber ‘Entitlement’

From a surprisingly outraged Associated Press:

AP IMPACT: Timber program becomes vast entitlement

By Matthew Daly And Shannon Dininny, Associated Press Writers

December 6, 2009

RESERVE, N.M. – A federal program that began as a safety net for Pacific Northwest logging communities hard-hit by battles over the spotted owl in the 1990s has morphed into a sprawling entitlement — one that ships vast amounts of money to states with little or no historic connection to timber, an analysis by The Associated Press shows.

Nicknamed "county payments," the timber program was supposed to assist counties shortchanged when national forests limited logging to protect the northern spotted owl and other endangered species.

Since becoming law in 2000, the program has distributed more than $3 billion to 700 counties in 41 states with national forests and helped fund everything from schools to libraries to jails.

The federal largesse initially focused on a handful of Western states, with Oregon alone receiving nearly $2 billion.

Spending of that magnitude, though, sparked a new timber war — this one among politicians eager to get their hands on some of the logging money.

A four-year renewal of the law, passed last year, authorizes an additional $1.6 billion for the program through 2011 and shifts substantial sums to states where the spotted owl never flew. While money initially was based on historic logging levels, now any state with federal forests — even those with no history of logging — is eligible for millions in Forest Service dollars.

Doling out all that taxpayer money is based less on logging losses than on the powerful reality of political clout. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is among the program’s strongest backers.

The biggest winner under the renewal is, in fact, Nevada, where payments jumped by 1,132 percent. Reid called the timber program a personal priority that supports "the lifeblood of communities all across America, and particularly in the West."

But there is already a quiet move afoot to renew county payments beyond 2011.

"Letting county payments end after 2011 would leave gaping holes in county budgets," said Oregon’s new Democratic senator, Jeff Merkley. "We can’t let that happen."

Here in Catron County, the part of western New Mexico where Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang once holed up, the program distributes the highest per capita payment in the nation — $1,883 per person.

Pioneers settled this remote frontier town more than a century ago to log ponderosa pine. By the late 1980s, timber production had dwindled, and in 1990 the town’s sole remaining mill shut down

New Mexico’s two senators served as chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate committee that rewrote the timber payments formula.

New Mexico’s increase under the new formula was 692 percent

Many Oregon counties receive more money annually from county payments than from timber sales during all but the peak logging years of the late 1980s…

Reid was among four powerful Western Democrats who shepherded the new timber law, which he and others have touted as an accomplishment of the Democratic-led Congress. Other key backers include Wyden and Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Max Baucus, D-Mont. Bingaman chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while Baucus heads the Senate Finance panel.

Baucus boasted that he "led the charge" to renew the timber program

Other states that benefit from the change include Utah, which received a 636 percent increase; Alaska (528 percent); Kentucky (303 percent); Tennessee (188 percent); Colorado (184 percent); North Carolina and Virginia (150 percent each)…

Individual counties also received huge increases:

— Nevada’s Clark County, renowned for its sinful desert attraction, Las Vegas, saw an 841 percent increase in timber money to $226,000 this year. That nearly equals timber receipts from the county’s tiny portion of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest over two decades.

— Timber harvests in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest have been modest in recent decades — ranging from $7,600 to $77,000 annually — but Clay County, Ky., which includes part of the forest, received $338,510 this year from the timber program, a 341 percent increase.

— Tucked in the red rock landscape of Yavapai County, Ariz., lies the upscale community of Sedona, where, among other notables, Republican Sen. John McCain owns a $1.8 million getaway ranch nearby. Yavapai received $2 million this year under the timber program — a 221 percent increase. The Prescott National Forest, as well as portions of the Coconino and Tonto national forests, are within the county…

Isn’t it hilarious to see the Associated Press suddenly develop some sense of fiscal responsibility?

We suppose it’s better late than never.

But what a surprise it is to see that upstanding statesman Harry Reid behind this boondoggle.

Wonder how much of a cut he gets?

(Thanks to Franco for the heads up.)

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, December 6th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Reid, Baucus Behind Timber ‘Entitlement’”

  1. proreason says:

    Gee what a surprise that honest John McCain is benefitting from this boondoggle.

  2. Liberals Demise says:

    (wait for it)


    Ahem…..Thank You!

  3. canary says:

    I believe this is common. There seems to be incidents of some politicians saying there is money set aside for something that’s not being used, and better to use it on that something than let it sit. So many unused federal buildings sitting there, but they create jobs to update JFK Library.
    Obama in his State speech telling the world his neighbors are going without food, at the same time ABC is shooting Oprah’s Christmas at the WH is in poor taste, when our soldiers and their families do without.

  4. rogue says:

    The Feds have killed the lumber industry in Oregon and local economies. as well. These payments were intended to compensate for the impact the lumbering ban has had on our tax base. Generally I’m not in favor of federal handouts, but if the feds are going to ban lumbering then they should pay compensation for as long as the ban remains. Of course, payments should only go to areas impacted by the ban.

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