Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet helped introduce legislation that would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Program. Colorado received $11.8 million in funding from the program in 2016. Meeker schools received around $80,000, Routt County Schools collected over $166,000 and Moffat County Schools garnered more than $20,000 from the program. However, the SRS program has since expired. The legislation, introduced last week, would authorize program payments for Fiscal years 2016 and 2017. SRS funds have been used across western Colorado to finance critical projects like public schools, roads, and emergency services. In February, Gardner, Bennet and colleagues sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, to encourage adequate funding for the program. Gardner says meeting with elected officials from the Western Slope has made it clear that the SRS funds are a top priority. While the legislation will allow counties to be reimbursed for costs incurred over the last two years, Gardner says he will continue to work to provide more certainty to those that rely on the program. Bennet agreed and said Congress should pass the bill so local governments and school districts that rely on the funds, can plan their budgets accordingly. Representatives from Rio Blanco, Routt and Moffat Counties all said they plan to continue to utilize the SRS program if the bill is passed. A breakdown of the legislation is available below.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS Act) would:
- Reauthorize SRS payments for 2 years—retroactively, to make counties whole for their FY2016 payments and FY2017 (payment goes out in 2018);
- Clarify the use of unelected Title II funds;
- Eliminate the merchantable timber pilot requirement;
- Clarify, through a technical fix, the availability of funds per section 207(d)(2);
- Extend the time available to initiate Title II projects and obligate funds for the 2-year reauthorization;
- Title II and III Elections: For the 2-year reauthorization, there won’t be enough time to go through the administrative process of the counties changing their elections and still getting their payments on time, so for reauthorization, the counties have to stick with their current elections;
- Require an acceptable offset to pay for the cost of the program to be identified.