Okanogan County recipient of federal dollars

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Sen. Maria Cantwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Okanogan County will receive about $2.25 million in Secure Rural School funding through an amendment to the transportation bill cosponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The amendment extends for one year two important programs that provide support for rural schools and roads, according to Cantwell. Washington State is typically the fourth highest recipient of Secure Rural School (SRS) funding. Okanogan County is a top recipient of these programs and will receive roughly $2.25 million in SRS monies as well as $2.1 million in Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding as a result of the deal. Okanogan County is third in the state in SRS funding (after Skamania and Lewis counties) and second in the state in PILT funding (after Chelan County, which receives just $20,000 more than Okanogan or $2,126,841).

In Skamania County, renewal of these programs is saving 65 police and teacher jobs. SRS funding will go out this December (for fiscal year 2012) and PILT funding will go out next June (for fiscal year 2013).

The amendment also continued funding for key state transportation projects. In recent years, projects that have received this sort of transportation funding include a rock slope stabilization project on SR 97A between Wenatchee and Lake Chelan; safety improvements to the SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge and a rock slope stabilization project on the west section of Stevens Pass to reduce rocks from falling on US 2.

“Washington state businesses rely on our transportation infrastructure to support jobs and stay competitive in a global economy,” Cantwell said last Friday. “This critical transportation bill will support Washington jobs by investing in our roads, bridges, ferries, and railways. Today’s vote helps to build a network that will support Washington’s future economic growth.”

A provision backed by Cantwell and fellow U.S. Senator Patty Murray from Washington State, also prevented student loan interest rates from doubling last Sunday. In Washington state, a doubling of the student loan interest rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent and would cost Washington state college students $83 million more in loan payments.

“This vote is welcome news for 100,000 Washington students who faced dramatic increases in loan rates,” Cantwell said about the passage. “In stopping these loan rates from doubling, we are sending a message that America is focused on investing in its future. Today’s vote will help more Washington middle-class families to afford college and technical education.”

Cantwell joined with a bipartisan majority of her colleagues in voting to approve the transportation bill which included Senate Amendment 1825, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Determination Act and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4348) passed the Senate by a 74 to 19 bipartisan vote, sending the legislation to President Obama for his signature. The House approved the legislation just before the Senate by a 373 to 52 vote.

Murray, who is chairwoman of the Senate’s Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee, said the compromise will continue funding for transportation projects through Sept. 31, 2014.

The bill will provide more than $1.7 billion over two years for vital infrastructure projects in Washington.

“This critical funding for Washington State Ferries will help to maintain our ferries, fund current projects, and keep vessels in service,” Murray said.

Among those voting for the House Bill, which also had bipartisan support, was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA). H.R. 4348. reforms and reauthorizes critical transportation funding and safety programs, reauthorizes a national flood-insurance program, and freezes interest rates on certain federally-backed student loans.

“I’m proud to vote for this legislation which will have a positive and direct impact on Eastern Washington, authorizing critical funding for road and bridge construction projects, like the North South Freeway, and keeping higher education affordable for those attending our colleges and universities,” said Rep. McMorris Rodgers.

The Conference Report accompanying H.R. 4348 is a fully paid-for two-year authorization that does not raise taxes, consolidates duplicative programs, and streamlines regulatory red tape to allow road and highway construction projects to move forward faster and cost less. Additionally, the Conference Report extends through 2013 the Secure Rural Schools and PILT programs.