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Federal School Funding Axed in New Budget

Western state elected officials woke up to dismaying news Wednesday morning. A federal program they've relied on for more than a decade to bolster local budgets has been stripped from the proposed federal budget.

Since 2000, the Secure Rural Schools and County Self-Determination Act has pumped billions of dollars into mountain state counties which are home to vast tracts of federal forest land - land which states and local governments cannot tax.

But in the omnibus spending bill cobbled together in the past few weeks in the US House, the funding has been  specifically left out for the coming fiscal year.

An appropriation for a similar program, called the Payments in Lieu of Taxes, is included in pared-down form, but senators of both parties from Idaho, Oregon and Washington assailed the lack of school funds. The latest report from the US Forest Service listed $25 million paid to Idaho, about $60 million to Oregon and $19 million to Washington under the school program.

Such totals are loose-pocket-change-under-the-couch-cushion in the overall federal budget, but the money's important - even critical - to cash strapped counties in the three states. They use it tp pay for law enforcement, schools, roads and bridges.

In the last minute congressional rush to avoid another government shutdown before Friday, it's unlikely that senators can force through an amendment to add the school funding.

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