Some things are worth fighting on principle; others are better to let go. Gov. Mike Leavitt's decision to not spend state money on lawsuits seeking to overturn creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is prudent.
Granted, Leavitt's veto of HB414 saves only $75,000 designated for legal fees in a Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration lawsuit against the federal government. But that is money better spent elsewhere.Sponsored by Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork, HB414 was passed under the auspices of striking a blow for states' rights. That, of course, had to do with the controversial and underhanded creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante by the Clinton administration over strident objections from Utah officials. The president's monument methodology left a bad taste in many mouths.
The legality and propriety of his tactics are being litigated, but not by the state. That is the key issue here, which Leavitt explained with his veto. "The appropriation is unnecessary to defend the interests of the state and would simply benefit other plaintiffs in the suit." Utah should not contribute tax dollars toward legal action to which it is not directly a party.
Trust lands administration officials understand that and are apparently comfortable with it. Way and his fellow legislators should accept it. The independent agency also has sufficient money to cover the cost of litigation into the foreseeable future. Withholding $75,000 in state money will not derail the lawsuit.
Leavitt's advisers tell him the lawsuit has little chance of success, much the same as another suit that has been filed against the feds and monument creation. For him to agree to toss state tax dollars toward a longshot effort would be unwise, particularly during this season of pressing state budget constraints.
Utah should continue to work closely with the Bureau of Land Management on a plan for effective management of the monument while the legal action plays out. Pouring more tax dollars into undoing it at this stage would not be a good investment of public funds.