The Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act (HB148) is about educational equality and the self-reliance of our state.
Education funding in Utah is $2.2 billion below the national average on a per-pupil funding basis. More than 30 percent of Utah's $13 billion budget comes from a fiscally unsustainable federal government.
Utah can never tax its way out of these budget gaps. In fact, if Utah were to eliminate all personal exemptions it would still leave us more than $1.9 billion below the national average in per-pupil funding. Increasing personal income taxes by more than 100 percent, or raising corporate taxes by more than 1,000 percent, in theory, could close this education funding gap. However, as Illinois discovered by raising income taxes by 66 percent last year, this could likely drive families and businesses from the state and actually decrease total tax revenues.
None of these options even begins to address the fact that $5 billion of Utah's budget comes from federal funds that are seriously at risk since the federal government is nearly $16 trillion in debt and still overspending by more than $1 trillion dollars a year.
Despite challenging economic times, some states like North Dakota are adding thousands of new dollars per pupil to education funding over and above the national average and billions of new dollars to roads and schools buildings.
Utah and North Dakota were admitted into the Union at nearly the same time. The terms of each state's admission (their Enabling Acts) are virtually identical regarding the federal government's promise to "extinguish its title" to the public lands. Yet today, the federal government controls only 3 percent of North Dakota, but more than 65 percent of all lands in Utah. Both states have abundant natural resources, but only North Dakota has the freedom to manage the multiple-use and natural resources of its lands.
Concerning the solemn nature of the terms of Utah's admission into the Union, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently stated "the consequences of admission are instantaneous, and it ignores the uniquely sovereign character of that event ... to suggest that subsequent events (meaning acts of Congress) somehow can diminish what has already been bestowed. And that proposition applies a fortiori [with even greater force] where virtually all of the State's public lands ... are at stake." Hawaii v. OHA, (2009).
Think about what the Supreme Court said: Congress cannot change the vested rights of a states' admission into the Union (i.e. its enabling act). This includes the promise and duty of the federal government to transfer title to the public lands within our state in a timely fashion from our admission into the Union in 1896.
Under HB148, Utah acts in its "uniquely sovereign character" and sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, for the federal government to finally transfer title to the public lands directly to the state. The bill establishes a public lands commission to manage the multiple use (recreation access, hunting, fishing, grazing, etc.) and sustainable development of our abundant natural resources. It also expressly takes off the table the national parks, congressionally designated wilderness, and other national treasures preserving them for our children and our guests from around the world.
The federal government honored the promise to transfer title to the public lands to all states east of Colorado (and with Hawaii to our far west). Yet, after 116 years, the federal government still controls more than 65 percent of Utah's lands and our abundant natural resources. For Utah's schoolchildren, Utah's businesses, and Utah's future, we can't wait any longer for the federal government to finally honor this same promise made at Utah's statehood.
Ken Ivory is a Republican state representative from West Jordan.
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