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Timber funds: What's next'

Bush proposal is welcome, but the future looks uncertain

The Bush administration agreed this week to seek funding for a one-year extension of funding for counties affected by cutbacks in federal timber harvests. While that's good news, there are two reasons that few are jumping for joy in response:

And that's a scary proposition for many counties, including Jackson, which receives an estimated $23 million under the current Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, set to expire in 2007. That money is available for general fund use, which pays the bills for some of the most popular and widely used services at the county, including libraries, the sheriff's office and human services.

So there were no doubt some sighs of relief in the county courthouse at the news that a deal appears to be in the works. But wiser heads have already suggested that some of the funding could go into the county's rainy-day fund, which now holds $20 million that has been systematically set aside to help offset what many suspect will be the inevitable loss of the federal money.

That allocation is often referred to as a "subsidy," a misnomer &

8212; in our opinion &

8212; that only makes it more likely it will one day be lost. It is always worth noting that the funding is a replacement for revenues lost due to changes in federal timber policies. And those revenues were originally granted to Oregon counties as a replacement for private land that was seized by the government when the Oregon & California Railroad went under in 1916. Had that land not been taken over, it would still be on the tax rolls producing revenue to help the counties provide services.

Members of Oregon's congressional delegation, including Rep. Greg Walden and Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, deserve credit for their efforts to save the funding. This may prove to be only a temporary fix for now, but it allows the counties to live to fight another day. And, make no mistake, that fight will soon be rejoined. Too much is at stake to let our guard down now.