Merkley introduces first bill in U.S. Senate

Washington, DC — Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today introduced his first piece of legislation, the "Sustainable Revenue for Oregon Counties Act of 2009," a bill aimed at finding a sustainable, long-term solution to the revenue problems faced by Oregon’s timber-dependent counties. Merkley’s bill, co-sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden, would establish a 15-member task force to determine the best way to provide counties with a dependable source of revenue after the current county payments program expires.

“Addressing this issue is essential to the long-term success of Oregon’s rural counties,” said Merkley. “Payments are in place for the next two years. But we need to start preparing for what happens next.”

The task force established by the legislation would include representatives from affected counties, the timber industry, environmental organizations, Native American tribes, organized labor and the governor’s office as well as recognized experts in fields including natural resource economics, sustainable forestry and biodiversity and habitat management. The task force would be required to take public comments into consideration and report on those comments in their final findings.

If the bill is passed, nine months later the task force will recommend at least two proposals to provide long-term budget stability for timber counties. To ensure consensus, the plans will have to be endorsed by at least three-fifths of the members of the task force. Congress will then be required to hold hearings on the recommended proposals.

“Some might wonder why, only a few short months after Congress passed my county payments legislation, we are working on legislation once again," Senator Ron Wyden said. "But the reality is that the four additional years of county payments we just enacted will pass very quickly, and Jeff is showing enormous leadership by beginning the hard work now to take on the difficult challenges ahead."

Merkley's bill addresses a chief concern of county leaders in Southern Oregon.

“Letting county payments end after 2011 would leave gaping holes in county budgets. We can’t let that happen,” Merkley said. “What my bill does is bring together all of the key parties to figure out what the future should look like.”

Last month, Senators Merkley and Wyden successfully pushed for the inclusion of a county payments reserve fund in the Senate version of the federal budget. That move will help clear procedural hurdles for consideration of any legislation dealing with county payments, including the bill introduced today, Merkley said.

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