Taking back Utah's public lands

Governor Gary Herbert has signed HB 148, a bill aimed at restoring public lands to Utah for the benefit of public schools throughout the state. Watch this video report to learn more about what this bill would mean for Utah; it includes interviews with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Representative Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan), and Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute’s director of public affairs:


Here’s the script for the video: 

GOVERNOR HERBERT: “We’re here today because we believe the federal government has failed to keep its promises to the state of Utah, and it’s time for us to do something about that, that will help us for economic development and particularly to help us with the education of our children.”

VOICE-OVER: During a press conference Governor Gary Herbert signed Representative Ken Ivory’s House Bill 148, demanding the federal government surrender millions of acres of land within the state by 2014. And if this is accepted by the federal government, nearly all the federal land in Utah would become state land. If Utah responsibly utilizes those resources, it will grow the economy and the tax base that would provide revenues needed to close the education funding gap.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: “Well, number one, we’d be able to develop some of our resources in ways that would produce a lot of revenues that will go to our school system, our public schools. Right now our public schools are way behind other states ’cause we just don’t have the revenues that could be engendered if we owned our own lands. And that’s number one. Number two, we could help the whole country because we are a resource-rich state that can develop our resources without messing up the environment.”

CONGRESSMAN ROB BISHOP: “Utah does not have access to the resources in the state of Utah to be able to properly fund our needs, specifically infrastructure and especially education. And that is typical of every Western state that has a huge preponderance of public lands. So for the sake of our kids, we need to develop the resources that are here.”

VOICE-OVER: Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop are among many politicians who support this bill. When Utah’s Enabling Act was passed in 1894, it required citizens to give up claims to huge areas of land within the borders with a promise from the federal government to surrender that land to private control and give the state a portion of the proceeds to help fund its schools. Rep. Ivory says his bill would hold the federal government to that promise.

REPRESENTATIVE KEN IVORY: “Well the biggest thing is, as always, Utah leads the way. There are the very same promises in our statehood in our enabling act with respect to disposing of the public land, they’re the same, ours with all the states east of Colorado and yet the federal government honored the promises with the states east of Colorado and not with Utah and not with Arizona and not with Idaho, and consequently our children are $2 billion below average in per-pupil funding. We’re $5 billion dangerously dependent on federal funds that are fiscally unsustainable; this is a matter of educational equality and it’s a matter of providing for the self-reliance of our state.”

VOICE-OVER: Sutherland Institute’s director of public affairs, Stan Rasmussen, explains Sutherland is strongly in favor of House Bill 148 and believes it is the right approach to increasing Utah’s education funds.

STAN RASMUSSEN: “It is a reality that we have the lowest per-pupil funding in the country. Well, to get up to the national average would require $2.2 billion more in funding at the state level. Some might say, ‘Well, just increase taxes to solve that,’ and again as was pointed out during the session, during the debate and dialogue and reiterated here, that would require a doubling of personal income tax, and we know what impacts that would have on the economy and how decimating that would be to family budgets. That really is not an option. What is the approach; what will work? What will work is Utah regaining control of our lands.”

VOICE-OVER: Representative Ivory acknowledged the federal government will challenge the legislation and believes that litigation could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young, reminding you that public policy changes lives.