Tipton Urges the Administration to Honor Commitments to Rural Communities

WASHINGTON– Today, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) urged the Administration to uphold its obligations to rural communities and immediately halt its raid on mineral and timber royalty revenues vital for education, infrastructure, emergency services, and public safety in counties with large expanses of un-taxable federal lands.

This week the Administration announced there would be $110 million in deductions to federal mineral royalties paid to states due to sequestration. Colorado stands to lose $8.4 million because of the misguided decision.

“The President has had numerous opportunities to work with us to replace his sequester with commonsense spending reforms but has instead chosen to inflict maximum pain on the American people in how his Administration is now implementing the reckless sequester cuts.  Now the President is using his sequester as a smokescreen to sidestep obligations to rural communities by stopping mineral and timber royalty payments to Western states; revenues that these communities use to fund k-12 education, infrastructure repairs, emergency services and other projects,” Tipton said.  “It is disappointing that the Administration is picking winners and losers, and instead of making cuts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse, is taking away vital funds that rural communities rely on to educate our children, maintain infrastructure and ensure public safety.”

The Administration also announced this week that it would implement a retroactive reduction to Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments made to counties starting in January, 2013.  These payments were made to states based on fiscal year 2012 (FY12) royalty revenues, and yet the Administration is making retroactive reductions to them under the guise of the sequester which pertains to FY13 revenues. This will cost Colorado an additional $720,000 bringing the total to $9.1 million.

Tipton joined with his Western colleagues in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today urging that the Administration immediately halt this action and explain their legal authority for retroactively raiding FY12 funds already paid to states.

In the letter the members write:

Due to the continued inability of the federal government to manage National Forest lands and provide local communities with a meaningful share of revenues from timber receipts, Congress has approved SRS payments to provide rural counties with funds for teachers, schools, police officers, emergency services and infrastructure.  The SRS program was most recently extended through fiscal year 2012 as part of the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” that was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.  The Department of Agriculture distributed $323 million to 41 states in accordance with that law in January of this year.  

Though the Forest Service was aware of the pending automatic spending reductions for many months, and the sequester took effect on March 1st, the agency made no mention of an impact on SRS payments until March 20th.  For the Administration to announce three months after the disbursement of these payments that they are subject to the sequester, and that States will receive a bill for repayment of funds already distributed to counties, appears to be an obvious attempt by President Obama’s Administration to make the sequester as painful as possible.

We request that this action be halted.  It retroactively takes funds that are already being used for rural schools, emergency services, infrastructure, and protecting communities from the risk of catastrophic wildfire.  We also request a detailed explanation of the legal authority for demanding repayment of the FY12 funds that have already been paid out by the federal government.

Read the full letter here.