Over the past few years, the Legislature has made great strides in establishing the importance of managing public lands for multiple use and doing so in a way that adds to their health and vitality.

This year I cosponsored HB 357, which requires an evaluation of the impact of federal PILT payments on the state, in terms of the loss of property tax dollars that arises as a result of federal ownership of 67 percent of our land. In 2016 I cosponsored HB 276 which declared that state land should be managed for multiple use and puts a framework in place for the state to adequately manage federal lands in the event that they are ever turned over to the state.

A few other steps we have taken:

  • In-depth depth economic study of state management of public lands,

  • Legal analysis to determine the precedents and historical principles for a challenge to the federal government’s near-permanent ownership of the majority of the land within our state

  • A comprehensive state and county resource management plan,

  • Establishing the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands and passing over 45 pieces of legislation.

Nearly 70 percent of the land in Utah, and 50 percent in the western United States, is controlled by the federal government. The compact between the state of Utah and the federal government at the time of the formation of the state, provided for the feds to take stewardship over the land until it could be sold. This compact allowed them to keep 95% of the revenue from the sale but required they give 5% back to the state for use in education. This has never been done.

The responsibility of the federal government was to “dispose of” the land; it was never meant for them to hold it in reserve for no productive purpose and cut off the ability of states to utilize it for their own growth and funding.

Because the citizens of Utah have no access to nearly 70% of their land for their own management or development, the burden is on all of the states, through federal expenditures, to upkeep and maintain the land. The federal government hasn’t even been very successful at that, though the cost to taxpayers of maintaining western lands is significant at about $13 billion per year.

Taxpayers will also be further on the hook for the $15 billion in deferred maintenance in the nation’s western national parks, all while the locked-up mineral value of these very lands is assessed at $150 trillion. Add to this the fact that when states manage lands, they’re able to turn that responsibility into revenue of $6.29 per acre, while federally managed lands cost taxpayers $1.86 per acre.

It’s time for the federal government to honor the promises made to the current western states, just as it eventually did for the previously “western” states of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. After Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat U.S. senator from Missouri, pushed the federal government for many years to honor its commitments, they finally did, and those states were freed from the constraints of federal land control policy.

If you think this issue doesn’t matter to you, then you need to think again. If you care about education, if you care about clean air, if you care about the economy, if you care about energy independence and if you care about fairness and freedom then you should care about this issue.

For far too long Washington DC has controlled the West – well I’m here to tell you that I’ve had it. I’ve had enough of their mismanagement, I’ve had enough of them blocking our ability to responsibly manage OUR lands and I’ve had enough at their attempt at population control. Over 65% of our state is controlled by the Federal government. 90% of Utah’s population lives on 1% of our ground. We are one of the fastest growing states in the nation, yet we aren’t able to properly plan our infrastructure needs to support this growth, are limited in our efforts to expand commerce and restricted in our ability to fund our schools.

Why is it that 38 states have been recognized as sovereign, yet 12 states in the West remain under federal control? It represents the worst gerrymandering in the history of this country as those in DC seek to limit our representation and influence. And what do we get as a consolation prize? It is called PILT which is the acronym for Payment In lieu of Taxes – in my mind, a more appropriate term would be Pennies In lieu of Trillions.

And speaking of trillions, I’m done listening to a dysfunctional Federal Government that is $19 trillion in debt and telling us they can manage ANYTHING better than we can. I have a message for them – in Utah we get things done and we will always manage EVERYTHING better than they do.