While Debt Ceiling Looms, Lawmakers Brainstorm Other Ways to Bankrupt States

This afternoon, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop’s Congressional “Federal Land Action Group” (FLAG), is holding a forum to discuss options for transferring federal lands back to state control. What the group won’t address, however, is that the idea of land transfer is hugely costly to states and taxpayers, is unpopular across the board with the public and would significantly restrict access to American public lands.

At a time when Congress has much more pressing business to consider—like avoiding another government shutdown and reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund—this forum is focused on an extreme plan that would cost taxpayers millions. That’s unfortunate, since it’s not even what constituents want—a recent bipartisan poll found that nearly 68% of western voters see federal lands as “American places” that belong to everyone in the country, regardless of the state in which they’re located.

An opinion piece this morning from the Center for Western Priorities underscored just how unpopular the idea of land transfers is throughout the West. But not only do they lack public support—transfers would also be disastrous to state and local economies. Once states take control of federal lands, they would be responsible for aspects of their management like wildfire control and suppression, which include costs that would absolutely obliterate state budgets.

What’s more, transferring federal lands to state control would be restrictive to those seeking access to the land for fishing, hunting, and other recreational activities that bring in billions annually. This means that not only would states be spending beyond their means to upkeep these lands, but they’d also be losing out on sources of revenue that previously padded their budgets—a lose-lose situation.

It’s hardly a surprise that this bad idea made it to Washington on the backs of two representatives from Utah, given that in recent years, Utah has been the epicenter of fringe efforts to seize control of public lands from the federal government. In fact, the Utah legislature went so far as to pass legislation that requires the federal government to grant Utah the majority of federal land in its state by 2014. Now, with that deadline passed, Utah is investing $2 million of taxpayer money to advance the fight in Congress—even though it’s not what Utahns want.

This particular Utah law was spearheaded by State Representative Ken Ivory. Mr. Ivory has not only has advocated for the idea as a state legislature in Utah, but also has tied his personal income to the issue, embarking on a crusade across the West to rally support for land transfer legislation using a nonprofit he created.

Today’s forum is certain to be chock full of partisan rhetoric, but short on facts. For starters, the group is made up solely of lawmakers who belong to the wing of the House that sought to oust the last majority leader, so this debate doesn’t have across-the-aisle support. While Rep. Ivory will not be present at today’s Congressional FLAG forum, perhaps because of his radioactive statements such as comparing living in a state with a lot of federal land to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, the former Chair of his nonprofit who considers himself a “staunch ally” of Cliven Bundy will be attending.

It’s time for Congress—but particularly these wayward Utah representatives—to listen to its constituents, and to step up to the plate for solutions that will actually work.


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