Griffith frustrated by Congress’ slow pace
GLENVAR – Ninth District Congressman H. Morgan Griffith told Glenvar High School students this week he is frustrated by the slow pace of Congress compared to how the Virginia House of Delegates considers and passes bills.
Griffith had been invited by GHS Principal Joe Hafey to speak to juniors and seniors in government and history classes. The Republican who lives in Salem served 16 years in the General Assembly and now is in his second year in the United States House of Representatives. He represents the adjacent district to Salem that runs from Craig County all the way to Abingdon.
Although the 36 students gathered in the school’s library had few questions for Griffith, their teachers came prepared with queries submitted by students in Advanced Placement history and government classes. The AP students were unable to attend because of scheduling, said teacher Rob Campbell, who asked questions on behalf of his students.
Griffith told the government and history students his emphasis in Congress is with an eye to the future of the economic health of the United States for his children, an 11-year-old stepdaughter and boys 6 and 4 years old.
Griffith shook the young people by explaining today’s national $1.3-trillion deficit will have to be paid back some day, and they’re the ones who will have to pay it. Under current proposals, it would take 39 years to balance the budget.
“We’re borrowing that money on a credit card…Who’s got to pay more of it, me or you? I’m 53 years old. Thirty-nine years from now I’ll be 80. You all get to pay all that money and principal back…You are going to be in the same position the Greek’s are in right now,” he added.
Some of the ways Griffith is trying to cut national expenditures would involve bringing home half of military now stationed in Europe, he said, and cutting out what he called “The retirement home for horses.”
Current figures to maintain wild horses in the United States western lands is $69.3 million, he told students. “How much will it cost to euthanize those horses?”
Griffith explained the horse program is part of the national budget’s mandatory spending categories, “And you can’t change that,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”
As far as legislation that could directly affect counties, cities and towns he represents, Griffith said he is keeping his eye on proposed changes to payments in lieu of taxes that help support Craig County Schools.
In regards to the proposed changes to the way federal funds in lieu of taxes are allocated to jurisdictions such as Craig County, Griffith said the federal government is considering returning to the idea of payments based on how much production there is in the National Forest instead of the percentage of acreage that is currently used.
“I’m concerned that there isn’t much production or timber being cut in the National Forest in Craig County,” Griffith said.
The Payments in Lieu of Taxes or PILT is due to expire at the end of fiscal year 2012.
Craig County Schools currently get almost $250,000 from Payments In Lieu of Taxes coupled with a more recent program, the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Ted Coffman, a recreation and heritage staff officer in the Roanoke office of the National Forest Service, said Monday that Craig County Schools last year received $93,534 from PILT payments, with the remainder from the Secure Rural Schools program. The latter is based on receipts instead of acreage, Coffman said.
“Counties can elect to do one or both,” Coffman explained, referring to the two types of federal payments.
In October 2011, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on the subject.
According to a press release on the Natural Resources Committee’s website – naturalresources.house.gov – people who spoke on Oct. 14 emphasized the importance to rural communities that have federally owned land.
Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah was quoted as saying PILT has become an essential lifeline for many rural counties, particularly in the western states, and he said “It is imperative that we begin to manage our federal lands and natural resources for a maximum return on conservation, economic and public benefit.”
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington State, who is also a Republican, said House Republicans are “committed to finding a way to renew and continue full funding of the program.”
PILT was established in 1976 to compensate local governments such as Craig County where more than 52 percent is National Forest for lost property tax revenues on non-taxable federally owned land.