Oregon unwilling to fill timber payments gap


Voters in five Western Oregon counties rejected tax proposals that would help make up for a loss of federal timber payments. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act provides payments to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging. The law expired last year amid concerns about wartime budget constraints and complaints that Oregon and other Pacific states receive too much of the money.

When Congress failed to renew the act, counties made plans to reduce services. Five timber counties asked voters Tuesday to help ease the loss, but voters decided to keep their money.

In Lane County, voters handily rejected a 1.1 percent income tax to raise $32.5 million annually for public safety. Jackson County voters, meanwhile, defeated a property tax measure that aimed to reopen 15 libraries.

"We have a lot of work to do," Joe Davis, chairman of the Save Our Library System committee, told The Oregonian newspaper. "We're going to keep fighting for our county."

The group spent more than $100,000 on the election and faced no organized opposition.

In Josephine County, a public safety levy lost by a wide margin. The levy would have funded the sheriff's office, the district attorney's office and the Juvenile Justice Center. Commissioner Jim Raffenburg left the courthouse shortly after 9 p.m., telling the Grants Pass Daily Courier there was no point in sticking around to see final numbers.

Voters in Coos and Curry counties, in southwest Oregon, rejected property tax levies that would have funded public safety programs. The Coos vote was 68 percent to 32 percent. The Curry vote was 67 percent to 33 percent.

Though voters refused to support higher taxes, there's still a chance they could get their services. The House last week passed an emergency spending bill that includes a $425 million one-year extension of the timber payments. President Bush, however, threatened to veto the bill, saying he is not convinced the spending constitutes a true emergency.

Curry County Commissioner Lucie LaBonte said if the federal safety net isn't approved, there will be no more patrol officers beginning July 1.

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