March 31, 1999
REGULAR MEETING BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Commissioners' Conference Room - 7:30 a.m.
Commissioner Bobby Green, Sr., presided with Commissioners Bill Dwyer, Anna Morrison, Peter Sorenson and Cindy Weeldreyer present. County Administrator Bill Van Vactor, County Counsel Teresa Wilson and Recording Secretary Melissa Zimmer were also present.
Meeting with Representative Peter DeFazio
Green stated he wanted to keep the discussion as informal as possible, but one issue that was before the Board was decoupling. He added he had visited with DeFazio in Washington, D.C. in March, who made his position on decoupling clear. He said he wanted the rest of the Board to have an opportunity to engage in a discussion with DeFazio.
Peter DeFazio, Congressman, reported that as a former Commissioner, he knows how critical the revenues are, and in Lane County's case (if there were no guaranties this year) it would amount to a $16 million shortfall, with no way to make that up. He said for two years in a row, the President has found money in his budget for this. He said what the President is doing is a limited time offer. He said he doesn't know if the President will do it again next year. He also said he doesn't know what will happen when there is a new President. He said it is a fleeting opportunity to get a permanent guaranty of crucial revenues to not only Oregon counties, but counties all over America.
He said he is worried that this is evolving into either an environmentalist or timber industry argument. He said it is a guaranty of funds for counties and has nothing to do with the future of forest policy. He noted that the environmentalist say decoupling is crucial in having an environmentally sensitive forest policy, while the timber industry says it is crucial that counties stick with them, otherwise they will lose in the fight with environmentalists over timber policy. He said the two extremes are trying to make it about forest policy and he is worried the counties are buying into that. He said the counties have to keep track of the money and not get into the debate. He noted that NACo had made it about forest policy, which is a mistake. He said whether the counties are coupled or decoupled or have the option will not make a difference in federal forest policies. He said if the counties believe that the Republicans are serious about moving a bill that is linked to forest policy they are wrong. He said it is about the money, and it is a mistake to link it to forest policy as it guarantees a veto. He said right now everyone is in project surpluses and it is a good time for the County's permanent authorization. He noted if the Counties de-link from the future of timber revenues, there may be an entitlement and it could go either way. He added if all of the counties across America (who have federal forest lands) are getting a little share of a permanent guaranty, it would be hard for congress to undo that. He said he wrote a compromise bill because the commissioners believe that in the future, it might be a better economic deal for counties to be linked to timber revenues because harvests will go up. He said the President's forest plan in the northwest will be re-written early in the next century, by 2003. He added by then, the counties will have a good idea about what the future timber harvests will be. He said it wouldn't be much different than today and it would be a better deal to take the guaranties. He said he had no great investment in it and if anyone else had any compromises that could get them through this, he would be open to it. He said there needs to be action, even if it isn't what President Clinton says he wants or will sign. He said trying to change how forest policy is made, (no matter how well-written or intentioned) is adding a lot of weight to something that already has problems.
Green noted that DeFazio's comments were what he was told in Washington, D.C. He said he was less than impressed with the strategy that was being put forth. He said since that time, the Board had been informally talking about the idea, seeking their own lobbying efforts. He wanted to know what disadvantages there would be if Lane County took it up for their vested interests.
DeFazio responded that if Lane County articulated a clear position it should be able to move things.
Dwyer noted that he introduced a resolution that didn't pass, educating the Board on either making noise or law. He said he shared DeFazio's concerns, although he is more concerned about the money. He said he liked DeFazio's "one time opt out provision" because it gave the County an idea of what the cuts would be, not necessarily what the market price would be. He added he told the O & C counties the same thing and they had no plan and didn't think the money existed to fund this extension. He said as commissioners, they can't be in the middle of the discussion between the timber industry and environmentalists, they have to look out for the taxpayers of Lane County.
DeFazio said in the alternative, if the groups could get a commitment out of the Republican leaders to move something that Clinton finds unacceptable, there could be hard bargaining. He said the lack of a real legislative plan is the most disturbing thing.
Green wanted to know if it was incumbent upon the counties to locate the dollars.
DeFazio said it is accommodated in Clinton's budget. He added he would be willing to go to a special tax break to set up subsidies of corporations overseas to export laws. He said the battle is over the bill and what the provisions of the bill are, rather than identifying the money.
Weeldreyer said she believes that Lane County is situated to be a real player in trying to move O & C to formulate a realistic political strategy and carry it to the state. She said it is a challenge to try to find a realistic political solution. She said it is important to all of the taxpayers and political games can't be played. She added there needs to be something that everyone can live with so there can be stable funding for the essential services that need to be provided.
Morrison noted that DeFazio stated there was lack of energy around any kind of a measure being introduced into congress around this issue. She wanted to know if he had any discussions with the National Forest County Schools Coalition.
DeFazio responded his staff had. He said he had heard from the counties and NACo as they are leading the charge on formulating legislation, working with Sy Jameson.
Morrison said it is not just a Pacific Northwest situation as far dollars are concerned, but it is also about dollars to schools. She said the National Education Association is also working with the Forest County Schools Coalition in drafting this.
DeFazio stated there are problems with forests and forest policy. He said he has disagreed with Clinton on things he has done, but this is not the bill or the issue in which to make forest policy. He said forest policy will bring down the wrath of every environmental group in the country. He said the bill that provides revenue to counties is not the place to do it.
Morrison said Lane County's responsibility to the taxpayers is not just dollars, but making sure there are federal policies that benefit the taxpayers. She said she didn't think the issue was looking for dollars.
DeFazio said this is not the bill or the issue to tie it to. He said this is a limited time offer and a gift. He said the debate is about whether the counties get guaranties for money and the strategy is to get there.
Sorenson said he hopes the leadership in congress will respond to this issue and keep it as narrow as possible on the needs for counties to have stable funding. He added what the administration proposed in terms of decoupling is one of the most significant things in public land law within the last 40 years.
DeFazio said the counties had virtually nothing to do with the last debate over federal forest policy. He said the forces are much greater than the counties and the key is to take a limited opportunity. He did not predict a rosy scenario in three years with the budget. He said it will be virtually impossible in the future to get a permanent guaranty of revenues whereas this year no real cuts will be made in the program for counties.
Dwyer stated in terms of school coalition principles, it is a pipe dream, as they are surrounded by forest policy and dominated by forest interests. He favored using the opportunity to get the money.
Weeldreyer stated that Lane County citizens would be best served by the Board if they used their influence to find a practical, not a political solution to the financial challenges they face after the year 2003.
DeFazio suggested to looking at everything and arriving at a solution that is unique to Lane County, and that may be the key. He said he will look for a Republican co-sponsor as a possibility. He said there is a time and place to carry the debate for forest policy and he is not totally pleased with the way forest policy is going in this Country.
Green noted that recently the block grant dollars failed 49 to 50 in the Senate and he wanted to have a discussion about other opportunities that may exist in the house. He said there are multiple issues to discuss in the future.
Weeldreyer stated that she had a lot of confidence in the expertise and network of people that are represented and if the Board could come up with an alternative that they would have the network in place to move it forward.
DeFazio responded that he looked forward to it.
Commissioner Green recessed the meeting into the Board of Commissioners meeting.
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