Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

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Open range cattle grazing at foothills of Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, summer scenery

Dusty Trails: The Erosion of Grazing in the American West

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

legs of men walking on a cobblestone square in the city

San Juan County residents bring civil opposition to S.L. Bears Ears celebration

Twelve hours on the road, 600 miles, and day-old gas-station food – that’s what a group of San Juan County residents willingly went through so they could have their voices heard at Monday’s Bears Ears celebration hosted by groups who supported the monument designation.

ProtestBE

 

Throughout the campaign to designate the Bears Ears National Monument, the most important voices – those of locals who are directly impacted by the designation – were repeatedly ignored and drowned out. Local tribes and the people of San Juan County were simply outmatched by the deep pockets, deceptive tactics and loud voices of extreme environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and the pen of President Barack Obama. Despite the uphill battle these people faced, they kept fighting for their home. That fight continued on Monday evening as they worked to inform the public of their plight and persuade the Trump administration to rescind or reduce the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group of 25 or so protesters arrived more than an hour before the festivities began – standing outside with their signs and talking of their hope to get things “back to normal.” Once the event began they quietly took their seats and listened to the presentations from out-of-state tribal leaders. Such civility has been a rarity in the Bears Ears debate. Monument supporters have made a bad habit of interrupting public meetings by shouting talking points and yelling at legislators. The courtesy displayed by this small group of San Juan County residents was a model of what the exercise of our First Amendment right should look like.

After the meeting I spoke with Devin Hancock, an organizer of the protest, and asked her why her group came all the way to Salt Lake City. “This monument designation is not about love and protection of the land. It’s about control, power, publicity and money,” Hancock said. “Money-hungry recreational and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) used manipulative tactics to sway some Native Americans outside of San Juan County and others into believing this is right. Native Americans should not be used as political pawns; this is not a game to us.”

While their group at Monday’s event was small, the San Juan residents have what should be the most important voice in the Bears Ears debate. There is no denying that the lands within the monument are public and open to all Americans. However, no one is impacted more by Obama’s designation of the monument than the people of San Juan County. These public lands provide live-sustaining resources, jobs and educational funding, and they are an integral part of the residents’ culture and way of life. This area is a part of who they are and part of their children’s future.

Portrait of a pretty young woman waving an American flag with wide open arms outdoors.

Testimony in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment)

Testimony by Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs, in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment) before the House Judiciary Committee of the Utah Legislature on Jan. 31, 2017.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, representatives. Stan Rasmussen with Sutherland Institute. I am pleased to share with you a statement prepared by our office, particularly the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.

We firmly support House Concurrent Resolution 6 because we support efforts in Congress to re-empower the states and restore the system of checks and balances instituted by our nation’s Founders.

At best, executive orders and administrative rulings can easily and blatantly disregard the opinions and rights of the American people. At worst, they allow government power to go unchecked which can ruin lives. Such actions have been taken by presidents and agency heads of both parties and fly in the face of the principles undergirding our American republic. Our families, our communities, and our state deserve better.

While the mechanism by which this resolution makes possible the repeal of executive orders, rules and regulations is important, it also gives incentives to the president and bureaucratic agencies to work with the people most impacted by their decisions. With the president and bureaucratic agencies working with individual states, laws will become more reflective of the will of the people, thereby encouraging collaboration and unity. The restoration of the states’ stronger voices will have a predictably constructive effect on participation in local governments, with citizens feeling a greater capability to contribute to and advance the cause of liberty in their homes and communities, returning the government to its constitutional origins of being of, for and by the people.

Because this is and ought to be a nonpartisan issue, we encourage you to support this resolution and efforts being pursued in Congress to re-empower the states.

Thank you.

Matt2[1]

Testimony in favor of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Jan. 31, 2017, in support of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands) before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, representatives,

My name is Matt Anderson and I am a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West – a project of Sutherland Institute. I stand here today to voice my support for HCR 7 and present some research I conducted on the invaluable role of ranching on our public lands.

It is no secret that grazing has declined across the West. While the BLM and USFS do not conduct annual counts of livestock grazing on the public lands they manage, they do compile information on the number of “Animal Unit Months” – the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

When averaged together, the number of AUMs in BLM grazing districts in Western states is less than half of what it was in 1949 – with some states seeing a drop of more than 70 percent. Utah is one of those states. In the last 65 years the number of operators and permittees allowed to graze in Western states dipped from 21,081 to 10,187. Such a sharp decline has not only impacts ranchers’ way of life, but has a profound and lasting effect on taxpayers, local economies, and the environment.

The BLM and USFS have great potential to generate revenue for the public good. However, on average these federal agencies lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year – with grazing losses accounting for a substantial portion of this shortfall. From 2009 to 2013, the BLM and USFS spent an average of $9.41 per AUM, while state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico spent $2.30 per AUM. At the same time, average federal return per AUM was only $1.18 compared to the state average of $7.79. While states often charge higher prices for grazing than the federal government, their policies actually encourage public grazing opportunities. The federal government’s high management costs, inefficiencies and political entanglements are costing the American public.

Agriculture is a substantial part of Utah’s economy, but plays an even more significant role in the rural parts of our state. When grazing declines, these communities suffer the most. In a study conducted by Utah State University, it was determined that grazing has declined by almost one-third within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This corresponds with the loss of 81 jobs and a decreased economic output of over $9 million per year. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population is less than 15,000, the effects have been devastating.

Ranching also plays an invaluable role in improving Western rangelands. Like your lawn, which needs trimming and mowing, rangelands need attention or they die. Harvesting the annually renewing forage on our public lands maintains the health and vitality of these ecosystems by reducing fuel loads that can lead to catastrophic wildfires.

Ranchers are also a vital piece of the rangeland puzzle. Take volunteer firefighting, for example. Rancher-run rangeland fire protection associations mobilize as first responders – often extinguishing blazes long before federal fire crews arrive. In Idaho alone, 146 rangeland protection firefighters fought 56 wildfires in 2015. It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife, and how many acres of vital habitat these volunteers have saved over the years.

This environmental stewardship extends well beyond firefighting as ranchers regularly partner with environmental agencies and universities to monitor land, water and wildlife; report suspicious and illegal activity to local law enforcement; plant fire resistant species; and improve water sources. The continued decline of grazing operators and permittees has serious implications for the environment.

We in the West don’t see land use in terms of winners and losers; it is not ruled by the zero-sum economics (one person’s gain must be explained by another’s loss) that is insinuated in federal land management policy. We understand that the pie can grow to everyone’s benefit, and most public lands can be – and ought to be – put to multiple, often complementary, uses. Grazing reduces fuel loads, which helps prevent catastrophic wildfires. Recreationists hike cattle trails and utilize roads established by ranchers. Stock ponds are a year-round supply of water for wildlife.

It is time to repair decades of federal mismanagement and reinstate grazing as an essential part of what it means for public lands to be multiple-use. HCR 7 begins to move us in that direction.

Thank you.

Poster map of United States of America with state names. Print map of USA for t-shirt, poster or geographic themes. Hand-drawn colorful map with states. Vector Illustration

Federal funding: far from free

Recently, the Tax Foundation released a study showing which states rely most on federal aid and what percentage of their budgets come from these federal dollars.

States receive a significant amount of assistance from the federal government in the form of federal grants-in-aid. In fact, when averaged together state governments relied on federal money for almost one-third of their general revenue in 2014.

FedAidtoStates-01

 

This dependence diminishes local priorities in favor of national special interests, incentivizes unnecessary spending at the state and local levels, mandates burdensome regulations, and leaves states vulnerable to future federal spending crises. Simply put, these dollars aren’t free – and the economic, social and financial costs are passed along to taxpayers.

Sutherland Institute wrote an article a year ago about the negative consequences of federal aid in an op-ed in the Daily Herald titled The Myth of Free Federal Money:

“No such thing as a free lunch.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“You don’t get something for nothing.”

We know all this. Yet the allure of “buy one, get one free!” “no money down!” and “get 6 months free!” still draws us in.

We see this natural impulse at work when “free” federal money is offered to our elected officials. With billions of tax dollars dangling in front of state and local governments, the sales pitch of better schools, stimulated economies and improved roads usually proves too enticing to turn away.

Unfortunately, this promise is based on a misconception. Federal funding isn’t free at all. In fact, according to new research, it costs Utah taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

A new study from Economics International (EI) reports that each additional dollar of federal grant money to the states is associated with an average increase of 82 cents in new state and local taxes.

In Utah, the extra tax burden from every dollar of federal funding is 72 cents. To illustrate, a hypothetical 10 percent increase in federal grants to Utah ($560 million) would be associated with approximately $400 million more in spending from state and local government — an additional tax burden of about $140 per Utahn.

That’s slightly below the national average, but it is cause for genuine concern. It means Utah’s elected officials are being manipulated by the federal government into increasing the financial burden on Utah taxpayers in ways they wouldn’t do otherwise.

We encourage the public and policymakers to reread this op-ed and reject federal funding’s empty promises.

Cody, Wyoming, USA - View across the rugged undulating rugged landscape of Buffalo Bill State park showing the rocky mountains  near Cody, Wyoming, USA. As can be seen the sagebrush thrives in this landscape despite the aridity and the fact that this shot was taken in the height of summer.

10 FAQs on the transfer of public lands

10 FAQs and resources

The beginning of Utah’s 2017 legislative session should bring good news for Utah’s public lands. Rep. Keven Stratton (R-Orem) is introducing a resolution aimed at securing control of our public lands in the hands of those who know and love them the most – the people of Utah. For too long federal mismanagement of our public lands has devastated the environment, depressed local economies, underfunded public education, and blocked recreational access. Our public lands, our communities and our families deserve better.

For the last five years, Utah has pursued legislative efforts and explored legal avenues to transfer title to 31 million acres of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands to the state in an attempt to remedy the consequences of federal management. (This effort does not include national parks, national wilderness, or the vast majority of Utah’s national monuments.)

HCR 1, Concurrent Resolution on Public Lands, moves toward making this a reality. Stratton’s resolution encourages the state to continue to pursue legislative means but stipulates that “in the absence of satisfactory legislative progress” by Dec. 1, 2017, the state will file a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court.

As this resolution gets more attention over the coming weeks, those opposed to local control of our public lands will undoubtedly try to blur the line between fact and fiction in an attempt to drum up opposition. To combat their unfounded rhetoric, the Coalition for Self-Government in the West has produced a document titled Transfer of Public Lands: 10 FAQs & Resources, designed to dispel the myths surrounding the movement to transfer public lands to willing Western states. We hope the public and legislators will look to this document and its accompanying resources to learn more about what the transfer will mean for the state of Utah and the benefits of local management.

Vision for Religious Freedom

True equality requires the protection of religious liberty. Religious freedom ensures equal treatment for all of God’s children.

To understand the former, one need only contemplate the contradiction in values, morals and logic contained in this scenario: A demand for equality leads to legal protection of an individual’s right to their core belief and expression regarding sexuality, but leads to legal prosecution of another individual for exercising their right to their core belief and expression regarding God. That is, in fact, a form of intolerance and inequality masquerading as equality.

To understand the latter, one need only ponder the historical fact that religion was a driving force behind the abolition of the English slave trade, the emancipation of American slaves, and the American civil rights movement. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead America’s civil rights movement in spite of his religious identity, but because of it.

Very early on in America’s history, Alexis de Tocqueville noted: “Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them a taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.”[1] Part of what Tocqueville meant is that religion shapes the experience of citizenship. It is easy to see then, why the freedom to practice religion is critical to the nation’s order and character.

The interconnectedness of religion, equality and freedom is uniquely American. Other nations have viewed religious freedom in different ways. The French Revolution’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man had a “religious freedom” provision, which subordinated the right to the perceived interests of the state: “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” This approach allowed for unfettered freedom to believe, but severely constricted the ability to act on or express that belief.

Even the charter of the Soviet Union guaranteed “freedom of religious worship,” which looked nothing like what Americans would recognize as freedom. The governing principle of Communist Russia was that everyone was free to believe what they would like, but with the caveat that expressing those beliefs in contradiction to the laws and will of the state would be severely punished. In practice, even the guarantee of freedom of belief was never honored.

Contrast the foreign ideas of freedom of religious views and religious worship to the American principle of religious freedom. Religious freedom is core to the way Americans constitute ourselves as a people. The pursuit of religious liberty motivated the establishment of America’s second English colony in 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Religious freedom also holds a unique place in our constitutional order: It is literally the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

Religious freedom in the Constitution is found in two places. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is also a provision in the text of the original Constitution, less remarked upon, but no less important. Article VI says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Taken together, these provisions, and similar ones in the constitutions of each state, show that the American ideal is one of robust protection for religious belief, worship and expression in the public square. These protections include three connected principles:

  1. All human beings should be free in their religious beliefs and practices without suffering persecution or official discrimination, except in the rare instances where a religious practice compromises a compelling governmental interest (e.g., protecting innocent life).
  2. Religious organizations must be free to determine doctrines and practices, including standards for membership, and to carry out their activities without government interference.
  3. No one should be forced by the government to affirm or support beliefs to which they do not freely ascribe.

Despite the robustness of the American principle of religious freedom contained in the Constitution, limited conceptions of religious freedom have their advocates in the modern United States. There has been a rhetorical shift among some to speak of a “freedom of worship.” This means that churches and individuals can believe and teach what they like, and perhaps even select their own clergy and perform their own ceremonies, but this “freedom” essentially ends outside the door of the meetinghouse, mosque, cathedral or synagogue.

For instance, a prominent government official recently argued that religious freedom was merely a “code word” for darker motives, such as hate for a particular group of people – the implicit suggestion being that the government can restrict the freedom of people of faith if their beliefs conflict with the official government-endorsed ideology: discriminating against religious people because of their beliefs, in the name of anti-discrimination.

A related notion is that other protections, like freedom of speech, are adequate to protect religious people. Thus, a recent Supreme Court decision dismissed concerns about religious organizations and individuals being asked to facilitate conduct at odds with their beliefs by saying that they still have the ability to verbally express their teachings. But the freedom to state one’s core beliefs becomes largely meaningless without its intended companion: freedom to live according to those core beliefs.

A free society prioritizes religious freedom. It recognizes what Tocqueville observed, that religious devotion fosters accountability that, in turn, secures the qualities in citizens that allows for a broadly tolerant and pluralistic community that is both safe and open. It also recognizes America’s historical reality: that religion is tied to equality, and without religious freedom equality would not exist in its current form in America.

With very rare exceptions – the damaging effects of which can be alleviated by existing constitutional principles – religion inculcates in its adherents a spirit of civility and public-spiritedness that allows a free society to flourish. It motivates individuals to come together to care for those who are less fortunate and to protect those otherwise excluded from the bounties of a prosperous nation.

Religious freedom is a foundation of a decent, equal and free society.

 

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 280 (translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop, 2000).

Bears Ears National Monument designation

From Sutherland Policy Analyst Matt Anderson:

   “We call on the President-elect and Congress to rescind this national monument designation and allow local voices to be heard and incorporated into how the Bears Ears region will be protected. Furthermore, we call on these elected officials to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for future monument designations. 

   Pleas for the president to stay his hand from Utah’s entire congressional delegation, Governor Gary Herbert, the State Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils fell on deaf ears. Instead, the President’s legacy and the demands of extreme environmental and corporate interests are now reflected in how more than 1 million acres of San Juan County will be managed.”

From Sutherland President Boyd Matheson:

   “The fact that the president is designating the Bears Ears National Monument at 6 p.m. Eastern on the Wednesday of Christmas vacation — and from 3,000 miles away in Hawaii no less — shows complete disrespect for the people of San Juan County. The citizens of this nation make monuments to honor true statesmen. President Obama declaring a monument unto himself with the stroke of a pen is not only unstatesman-like, it is undemocratic. The people of America should expect more and the people of San Juan County deserve better.