Thanks to federal land grabs, much of Oregon’s timber industry has been decimated, making rural counties largely dependent on government subsidies and grants.
When federal money starts to dry up, essentials like law enforcement (one of the primary legitimate roles of government) take a serious financial hit:
A scenario that police in western Oregon feared came true in the thick of holiday season after two dozen inmates were freed from a county jail that could no longer afford to hold them.
Less than an hour after one low-level offender walked out, authorities say, he was demanding that a bank teller hand over money.
In a time of budget cuts, cases where inmates get out of jail with little punishment only to commit more serious crimes shortly after their release have become all too common, authorities say.
Many in law enforcement predicted this would happen, and it could get worse if the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff.
The recession and a steady reduction in federal subsidies to timber counties have led Oregon sheriffs and district attorneys to juggle deep cuts. There are fewer jail beds, sheriff’s patrols, prosecutors, parole officers and specialized investigators.
Prosecutors have to toss out more than a quarter of the cases that cross their desks, just because there aren’t enough people to handle them.
“It makes me crazy,” said Patricia Perlow, chief deputy district attorney for Lane County.
Ironically, while the legitimate functions of government are scaled back, areas where government has no business – like entitlements and the arts – are less likely to face cuts. Imagine how much more money would be available for law, order and justice if local and state governments focused exclusively on these areas, and left the rest to the private sector?
Imagine how rural areas like Lane County could fund their own local needs if the federal government would simply get out of their way and stop tying up their resources?
Fifty-four percent of the land in Lane County belongs to the federal government, which pays no local taxes. The land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
For decades timber sales generated the majority of the county’s general fund, but that changed during the Clinton presidency. Eager to end the timber wars over the spotted owl, President Clinton came up with a plan that essentially pays rural timber counties to not log in the national forests.
Since 2001, 700 counties in 41 states have received SRS (Secure Rural Schools) payments. Nearly one-third of the money has been directed to the timber-rich state of Oregon. But those payments have been dwindling and, for the last several years, have been in jeopardy of not being renewed. Lane County used to get $50 million a year in timber payments. This year it will get $10 million.
“It’s a slap in our face,” says Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken, “Washington D.C. has basically said, ‘Oregon, you’re not important, Lane County, you’re not important.’”
Leiken comes from a timber family and wants off the federal dole. Like most rural leaders, he would rather see the timber payments discontinued and the U.S. Forest Service resume timber sales in their counties.
“If we would just put the forest back to work,” says Leiken, “I just think about the employment that would happen, let alone the revenue that would come into Lane County.”
Meantime, dangerous criminals walk free because the county can’t afford to keep them locked up.
Of course, this is at the same time that Oregon lawmakers are trying to disarm law-abiding citizens in the wake of the recent mall shooting. What could possibly go wrong?
Cross posted at ThoughtsFromAConservativeMom.com
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