By Will Johnson
CROCKETT – The Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act, along with the funding for counties and local school districts attached to it, was a topic of conversation during the monthly Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) luncheon held on Thursday, Feb. 23.
The 1908 act concerns directing the Secretary of the Treasury to make an annual payment to the states based on national forest receipts.
According to the statute passed in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools Act was an attempt by the U.S. Congress “… to restore stability and predictability to the annual payments made to states and counties containing National Forest System lands and public domain lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management for use by the counties for the benefit of public schools, roads and other purposes.”
DETCOG Past President and Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter broached the subject as he updated those in attendance on a recent trip to Washington, D.C.
“We spent the better part of a day and half over on Capitol Hill on the SRS funding. I know it’s really important to 10 of our counties here in Deep East Texas. We spoke with Sen. (John) Cornyn’s and Sen. (Ted) Cruz’s staff and we spent a considerable amount of time with Congressman Louis Gohmert. They all see the need – and the issues – facing East Texas with the funding being taken away,” Suiter said.
The judge reported the last of the funding from the bill had been received or will be received in the very near future but stressed “… there are no plans to include it in there (the federal budget) now. So, if we don’t get some help from the Congress, it looks like it is going to go away. Sabine County, Houston County and Trinity County are really hurting because of this reduction in funding.”
DETCOG Executive Director (and former Houston County Judge) Lonnie Hunt also addressed the SRS matter.
“The problem is,” he said, “the funding has run out. There is going to be a meeting of county and school officials right after this meeting to give a little update on that and maybe talk a little strategy.”
Hunt explained it was important to the 10 counties in Deep East Texas, along with Walker and Montgomery Counties, but of the 254 counties in Texas, those were the only 12 which would suffer from the lost revenue “… so it is not a big state issue.”
“That being said, our congressional delegation has supported us in the past,” Hunt continued. “There was recently a letter that went to the (Trump) administration asking for this funding to be included (in the federal budget). It was a bipartisan letter signed by both Democrats and Republicans. All three of the congressmen – Rep. (Brian) Babin, Rep. (Kevin) Brady and Rep. (Louis) Gohmert – who represent counties in our region, signed that letter.”
While the Texas congressional delegation is supportive of the measure, it won’t be at the forefront of the battle to have the SRS Act refinanced. That will be left up to other western states “… who have millions of acres more of forest land than we do in Texas,” Hunt said.
“Personally, I think we are in good shape with our Texas delegation. This is a political issue in Washington that is frustrating,” Hunt said. “I won’t preach much, but this is why we need to make sure Washington and Austin doesn’t end up making county government, city government and school government like they are. It seems more and more like they are trying to push their way of doing things to the local government instead of looking at local governments to see how they work together to get things done.”
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org