Today, Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert signed House Bill 148, which demands the federal government make good on the promises made in the 1894 Enabling Act to extinguish title to federal lands in Utah.
The Governor was joined by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Congressman Rob Bishop, Utah Representatives Ken Ivory and Roger Barrus, and other stakeholders in a show of unity for the effort to return public lands to state control.
H.B. 148 creates a principle-driven framework for a structured public dialogue, a potential legal challenge, and path forward to re-balance Utah's relationship with the federal government.
"We need a paradigm change when it comes to public lands management. This bill creates a mechanism to put the federal government on notice that Utah must be restored to its rightful place as a co-equal partner," said the Governor. "The federal government retaining control of two-thirds of our landmass was never in the bargain when we became a state, and it is indefensible 116 years later.
"This is only the first step in a long process, but it is a step we must take. Federal control of our public lands puts Utah at a distinct disadvantage, specifically with regard to education funding," he continued. "State and local property taxes cannot be levied on federal lands, and royalties and severance taxes are curtailed due to federal land use restrictions. Federal control hampers our ability to adequately fund our public education system."
"Utahns can better manage the lands in our state far better than any bureaucrat in Washington ever could," said Senator Orrin Hatch. "As a leader in the Sagebrush Rebellion, I've been fighting to turn federal lands in our state over to Utahns to own and control. I believe we are in a climate where, if we do it right, the lands in Utah can finally be under the management of our state, and I applaud the Legislature, Governor Herbert, and other parties in our state for sending this message."
"This issue is as much about state sovereignty as it is about our state economy," said Senator Mike Lee. "Utah can manage its priorities - like education, public safety, and health care - much more efficiently than the federal government. But the state needs resources to be effective and Washington is standing in the way. Utahns deserve the opportunity to use the land how they see fit to improve the state economy, the education system, and our communities."
"Signing this bill into law is a vital step in our united efforts to return the land back to the State of Utah where it rightfully belongs. Maintaining the status quo, with the federal government owning nearly 70% of the state, will continue to hurt education funding. Children in Utah's public school system deserve every educational opportunity afforded to those who come from states with few federal lands," said Congressman Rob Bishop. "This was never intended to be a plight for the state and much of the West. However, Washington bureaucrats have been stockpiling and hoarding land as part of their overzealous efforts to grow federal power. As a result, our ability to generate funding for public education has been severely hampered. Utah has suffered long enough and it's time that the federal government allow the state to have the opportunity to better manage and control the land within our border. I am grateful to Governor Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Bell, and especially State Legislators Ken Ivory and Roger Barrus for their efforts to make this legislation a success."
"A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently declared that congress cannot change the 'uniquely sovereign character of a state's admission' into the Union and that this proposition applies with even greater force where 'virtually all of a State's public lands are at stake.' With trillions of dollars in mineral resources and millions of acres of our lands tied up by acts of congress, what is at stake is a $2 billion education funding gap and nearly $5 billion in federal funds to Utah that are seriously at risk from a fiscally reckless federal government," said Representative Ken Ivory. "After waiting 116 years, we simply can't wait any longer for Washington to honor to Utah the same promise it made and kept with all states east of Colorado to transfer title the public lands in a timely fashion from being admitted into the Union."
"Utah's children deserve equal treatment with the children of any other state. Utah consistently ranks last in per-pupil spending. Without access to our public lands, it would take ruinous tax increases to bring Utah to the national per-pupil average," said Governor Herbert. "I am leading this fight because we are reaching a point when our educational needs - which are critical to sustained economic growth - are colliding with broken federal promises and moribund federal policies. The status quo cannot continue. This is a fight worth fighting."