Utah’s Public Lands — A New Paradigm

The following are Governor Herbert’s remarks (as prepared) delivered at the signing ceremony for House Bill 148, held March 23, 2012, in the Gold Room of the Utah State Capitol.

We are here today because the federal government has failed to keep its promise.   That promise made to Utah in the 1894 Enabling Act – the same one made to every other state – was that the federal government would dispose of public lands in an expeditious manner.

Today the federal government controls more than two-thirds of all the land in our state.

This is not just a Utah problem – it is a western problem.  Approximately 90% of all federal lands are in the western states. In seven western states, federal land constitutes more than 50 percent of the total land area.  Western states must live on a daily basis with management of our lands by a distant Congress and by unelected federal administrators.

Royalties and severance taxes from grazing, resource extraction, and other responsible economic uses of public lands are curtailed – often by arbitrary and overly-restrictive federal stipulations on multiple use and development.

It means that Bob Abbey actually controls far more land in Utah than I do.

The bill I am signing today – House Bill 148, sponsored by Representative Ken Ivory – establishes a principle-driven framework for structured, civil public dialogue, a potential legal challenge, and a path forward to re-balance our relationship with the federal government.

The State of Utah must be restored to its status as a co-equal partner with the federal government,
and, in doing so, we hope to attain the educational parity our students need and deserve.

We don’t have all the answers.   Indeed, we need to ask more questions.  But this bill formalizes and legitimizes the engagement of policymakers in moving the conversation forward.

This bill is the mechanism to put the federal government on notice, a way to provide leverage for enhanced federal dialog,  an apparatus to facilitate a paradigm change when it comes to public land management, and the justification for conducting a thorough economic analysis of the financial potential of the lands in question.

I thank Representative Ken Ivory, Senator Neiderhauser and Representative Roger Barrus – the sponsor of a companion bill, House Joint Resolution 3 – for leading the charge on this effort in the Legislature.

I want to thank Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow and his staff for their counsel and advice as this legislation advanced.

I thank Senator Hatch, our senior senator, who has been fighting this fight since he arrived in Washington.

Congressman Rob Bishop has been a tireless advocate and leader in highlighting the interrelationship between public lands and education. He also always has great maps.

Senator Lee also played a key role this process. At one point early this year Senator Lee came to my office and told me he needed legislation like the bill I am signing today to shine a spotlight on this issue for his colleagues back in Washington. His early support proved to be a catalyst in making this happen.

Congressman Chaffetz, who sends his regrets (his son is actually leaving on a mission today), wanted me to convey that he is highly supportive of this effort.

Again, I would like to thank all those who have spoken to us today – and all the various stakeholders involved – for their leadership.

Federal control of our public lands puts Utah at a distinct disadvantage with regard to education funding and future fiscal needs.  State and local property taxes – on which states rely to fund public education – cannot be levied on federal lands.

The result: Utah students face a stark disadvantage in an increasingly competitive global economy.  Utah consistently ranks last in per pupil funding – and it is no coincidence that 10 of the 12 major public lands states are also below the nation’s per pupil funding average.

In order to bring our per pupil funding to the national AVERAGE, Utah would have to spend an additional $2.2 billion more annually on public education.  This would require a 100% increase in our income tax.

Tax rates at that level would devastate the economy, destroy family budgets, and immediately transform Utah from the best state for business to one of the worst.

The status quo simply cannot continue.

As Governor, I am looking down the road 20 or 30 years and realizing Utah must act NOW.

Today I am compelled to sign this legislation – and to lead this fight – because we are reaching a point when our educational needs—which are so critical to sustained economic growth—are colliding with broken federal promises and moribund federal policies.

This is just the first step in a long and difficult process, but it is a step we must take.

I invite all western states to join us.

This is a fight worth fighting.