House approves bill for aid to rural counties

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The house on Tuesday approved a bill to boost aid to rural counties, a measure that will bring millions of dollars to Washington state.

The bill by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., increases aid for roads, schools and other local projects by $22 million next year in counties that have tax-exempt federal forest land within their boundaries.

Counties in all 50 states would receive at least some of the aid, which would go from $273 million in 1999 to $495 million next year. But most of the money would be shipped to the West.

Oregon would be the biggest beneficiary, receiving about $260 million, followed by California with $65 million, Washington state with $44 million and Idaho with nearly $23 million.

"Throughout this long process, I have led with the belief that we cannot let our rural communities be turned into sacrifice zones as a result of federal policies," Wyden said Tuesday. "No community, no matter how small, should be forgotten."

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said President Clinton is expected to sign the bill.

"This has been a long tight-rope walk," the Oregon Democrat said. "The administration is on board."

The bill had been blocked in the Senate by Sen. Don Nickles as a way to persuade Wyden to drop a threatened filibuster of the Oklahoma Republican’s bill that restricts physician-assisted suicide.

But Wyden, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, persuaded Nickles to allow the county payments bill to pass. The Senate approved it unanimously on Friday.

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