Friday, February 24, 2012

The supposedly noble fight for Utah education funding by *taking* public lands from the federal government

Jesse Harris posted a short opinion about his support of the legislature's push via lawsuits and eminent domain proceedings to take ownership of the extensive federal lands in Utah. Here are two articles about the coordinated push and claim that it's the federal government's fault Utah doesn't better fund public education.

You'll have to follow the first link and read Jesse's post and two other comments to get some of what I am referring to in my following comment, since I just copied my comment on his post and pasted it here as is. Here are two more links with background on how the legislature reduced the state's public education funding effort over the last two decades.

My comment with one addition I put in italics:
I’m very dubious for all these reasons. I read the Enabling Act,1894 and I think they’re making up history. I am not an expert in “implicit” promises made upon statehood, but the legislature has demonstrated numerous times that they are not experts either and frequently massage the facts to their liking.

The bills
depend on their reading of Section 9, and I think they’re blowing smoke. They interpret it to mean the fed gov “shall” sell the lands as in must.

Read Section 3, paragraph labeled Second for this:
“Second. That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof;”

Then read the one sentence of Section 9:
SEC. 9. That five per centum of the proceeds of the sales of public lands lying within said State, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said State into the Union, after deducting all the expenses incident to the same, shall be paid to the said State, to be used as a permanent fund, the interest of which only shall be expended for the support of the common schools within said State.

It looks to me in context that it means any lands the fed gov does sell, they must give 5% to Utah schools, not that they “have” to sell them. The emphasis on "which shall be sold" rather than "which shall be sold" seems obvious when viewed in light of Section 3. They're saying the feds have to share proceeds from land sales after statehood, but not before. I don’t think any precedent will support the leg’s reason.

To Ronald Hunt’s concern, I can’t find in the 4 bills I’ve looked at where the $3 million is coming from, but I’m almost sure that when I heard a few minutes of Rep.’s Barrus and Ivory presentation to the State School Board last week that they intend it to be education money with supposed increased return as a result. I find it very unlikely.

I think the concern is largely driven by rightwing ideology as you say Jesse rather than true concern for education funding, as the state’s effort has been in a documented decline since the 90′s. I think they’re trying to shift the blame in a politically popular way.

And finally, I don’t think the Eastern states lack of fed lands that was a natural process is a good analogy to what would happen if suddenly the feds had to sell all or a large percentage of all the land in Utah. There is no precedent. The leg has a record of valuing energy/industry concerns highly while dismissing environmental ones. I think “barren wasteland” is hyperbole, but I would worry about losing one of the best features of Utah–the freedom to explore so much public land, even as I would be happy about the increased education funding. It’s not worth any and all costs, and I don’t have the ideological hatred of the fed gov that is driving this.

I think they should sue for something more realistic like you suggested – sue for better regulations to make leasing quicker and cheaper while still allowing some voice for environmental concerns. The fed gov would have somewhere to compromise with that goal rather than just litigating the claim they ‘have’ to sell. That goal may make a settlement more unlikely…

(Heck, after all that, maybe I’ll just copy this as a post on my blog.)

And so I did.

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