Feds ‘claw back’ money; Western states hit hard

Move results from spending reductions forced by budget sequester

The U.S. Forest Service is preparing to “claw back” about $18 million from timber sales to states for local schools. The Interior Department, meanwhile, has notified states that they won’t get about $110 million from mineral royalty payments.

Both moves are efforts to shift the burden of spending reductions from the sequester to the states, according to a bipartisan group of representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

Western states will be hardest hit, absorbing 99.3 percent of cuts amounting to $109 million, according to the Congressional Western Caucus, which includes all Republicans.

The clawback effort aimed at forcing states to return money already given to them under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was criticized by more than 30 representatives in a letter to the Agriculture Department of Office of Management and Budget.

Tipton signed the letter, as did several Western Republicans and some Western Democrats, such as Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, both of Oregon, and Jim Matheson of Utah.

“For the administration to announce three months after the disbursement of these payments that they are subject to the sequester and that the states will receive a bill for repayment of funds already distributed to counties, appears to be an obvious attempt by President (Barack) Obama’s administration to make the sequester as painful as possible,” the letter said.

The letter asked that the clawback effort be halted and that the federal government provide a “detailed explanation” of its legal reasoning.

Tipton in a statement said Obama was using the sequester as a “smokescreen to sidestep obligations to rural communities by stopping federal mineral revenue payments to Western states.”

Communities rely on those revenues for public schools, public-works repairs, emergency services and other projects, Tipton said.

Under the Secure Rural Schools Act, each county in which a national forest is located is to receive Forest Service funding.

Colorado stands to lose $8.4 million from the federal mineral royalties paid to states, Tipton said.

Federal mineral royalties have been split almost evenly between the state and federal governments in recent years. Most recently, the split was amended to divert 51 percent of revenues to the federal government, 49 percent to the states.

“They’re going to keep the money instead of keeping a contract that’s been here since the beginning of the union,” said Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen, who questioned how keeping revenues intended for the states was the same as a spending reduction as required by the sequester.

Under the sequester, federal agencies are to reduce their spending plans by 5 percent.


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