Federal Issues Update: SRS Payments Released
USDA Releases Secure Rural Schools Payments
On March 18, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Forest Service officially announced the release of $272 million in Secure Rural School (SRS) payments to counties. It should be noted that the payments were slated to be released in February but were delayed as the administration sought clarification as to whether the program would be subject to sequestration. It was ultimately determined that the payments would not be subject to a sequester reduction.
In all, 39 California counties will receive about $31.8 million, slightly more than the $31 million that was made available last year. This total reflects approximately $27.4 million in SRS formula payments, combined with a little more $4.3 million in timber payments. A breakdown of funding by county can be found here.
Short-Term FAA Extension Awaiting Final Action
In other developments, the House on March 14 approved a short-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extension. Specifically, the bill (HR 4721) would extend the agency’s current authorization – which is set to expire at the end of March – through July 15. In addition, the measure would extend the FAA’s ability to collect excise taxes on fuel through March 31, 2017. On March 17, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill that would extend both the authorization and collection of taxes until July 15, 2016. The measure now heads back to the House for final approval.
President Obama Nominates New Supreme Court Justice
On March 16, President Obama officially nominated Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, filling the seat left vacant by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Without Scalia, the nine-member Supreme Court is evenly split with four liberals and four conservative justices. While Garland is widely viewed as a moderate, his nomination would tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades. For their part, Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on any nominee picked by the Democratic president.