Mead refuses to return money to U.S. Forest Service

2013-05-02T17:41:00Z 2013-05-02T23:28:18Z Mead refuses to return money to U.S. Forest ServiceBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
May 02, 2013 5:41 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead is refusing to return or repay more than $200,000 sought by the U.S. Forest Service because of federal sequester budget cuts.

In an April 19 letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas L. Tidwell, Mead said $197,225 in Secure Rural Schools money was paid to 19 Wyoming counties on Jan. 16, well before the March 1 automatic budget cuts deadline.

The counties spent the money on public schools, roads, conservation, emergency service and wildfire protection, Mead wrote.

"I have yet to see a legal justification for the U.S. Forest Service to require the state or counties to pay back funds to which they were rightfully entitled and which have been lawfully distributed," the letter said.

Mead added that he would not refund an additional $21,807 that was paid to the state from a second federal fund.

He said that he would, though, agree to the Forest Service withholding money from a special projects fund, but only $18,000 of it.

Alaska's governor, Sean Parnell, also is refusing to pay or return money to the Forest Service, in his case more than $800,000.

In his letter to Tidwell, Parnell, like Mead, questioned the agency's authority to demand a refund or to reduce funding to offset the cost.

Tidwell sent letters to 41 states, asking for the return of $17.9 million in timber payments used to pay for schools, roads, search and rescue operations in rural counties and conservation projects.

"We regret having to take this action, but we have no alternative under sequestration," Tidwell said in his letter to Parnell, dated March 19.

The National Governors Association last month requested legal justification for the agency's demands to the states, according to The Associated Press.

In Alaska, the amount in question includes $707,795 that has been paid to the state under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and $118,537 that has not yet been paid and would be withheld, Parnell said. The state was given the option of having the total amount — $826,332 — reduced from the funds the state receives under the act for things like conservation projects or getting a bill for the money that's already been paid out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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