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Public Statements

Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I support H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act.

This bill will rectify a decades-old injustice that was imposed by Congress during the Carter administration to ensure that funding for schools and education in Minnesota is carried on.

When Minnesota became a State, it received certain parcels of land from the Federal Government set aside to help fund education. These lands, known as school trust lands, were specifically established to provide funding for Minnesota public schools. Responsible timber management, mineral development, and other economic uses of these lands would generate the revenue that would benefit every child in the State.

However, in 1978, Congress designated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and a portion of these trust lands became trapped inside the wilderness area and inaccessible, therefore, for economic development. This caused a decline in funding, then, for local schools.

H.R. 5544 would implement a bipartisan plan that was passed by the Minnesota State Legislature and signed by Democrat Governor Dayton to authorize a no-cost land exchange. It would allow Minnesota school trust lands, locked away within the Federal wilderness area, to be exchanged for Federal land from the multiple-use Superior National Forest. State forest lands would be fairly exchanged for Federal forest lands.

But typical of the attitude held by many Democrats that spending more of taxpayers' money will solve the problem, the critics of this bill have suggested that the Federal Government should simply buy these inaccessible trust lands at a potential cost of tens of millions of dollars. This is at the same time when the Federal Government has had more than a $1 trillion budget deficit for the last 4 years under this President.

However, the much-needed solution in this bill would consolidate State-held lands within the wilderness area and allow the State of Minnesota to access and develop new trust lands from the Superior National Forest. This will benefit State schools at no cost to the Federal taxpayers, with the additional benefit of job creation and economic development.

Let me elaborate on that, Mr. Chairman. It has been shown time and again that States are far more effective managing lands for sustainable use and revenue generation than the Federal Government. For example, in my home State of Washington, they have been able to produce more than a thousand times the revenue for education on 2.2 million acres of State trust land, as opposed to the U.S. Forest Service, which is able to generate only four times that amount, 9 million acres. In other words, regenerate a thousand-percent revenue on one-fourth of the land because it's administered by the State. I think the same principle can apply to Minnesota.

Putting these State lands back to productive use for education will increase funding for schools across the State, while at the same time creating new opportunities for job creation and economic growth.

This bill is more than a land exchange. It's about keeping a promise when Minnesota became a State. It's about correcting the 34-year consequences of Federal action that restricted access to this vital asset. It's about ensuring that children and schools have the funding that they deserve and were promised. So I urge support of this bill.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Chairman, I am sitting here absolutely amazed by the debate on this issue. This is really very, very simple.

In 1978, there was no Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, so there were trust lands in that part of Minnesota that were generating revenue for public schools in Minnesota. So in 1978, Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and they took that land out of trust. So that means there is a deficiency in trust lands for Minnesota schools. This legislation simply seeks to correct that, nothing more than that. Nothing more than that.

So, in fact, here's another way to put it, Mr. Chairman. If the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness had not been passed, we wouldn't be here today because you would have those trust lands generating revenue. But because it included that area, we are here today.

Now, I heard my good friend from St. Paul talking about the transparency and everybody should be involved in decisionmaking. What happened in 1978 when this 86,000 acres was taken out of trust?

Where was the transparency?

Where was the goodwill that was coming from the Federal Government to the citizens of Minnesota at that time? It apparently wasn't there.

Now, I know the Forest Service can make those adjustments. They don't need an act of Congress to do it; but, Mr. Chairman, it's been 34 years. Don't you think, after 34 years, if the ability were there that it would be done if there was a will on both sides to do so?

Apparently, there might have been a will on both sides, but there are others that were involved that said, no, let's slow the process down. So the Minnesota Legislature said, let's get this thing going, and they passed the legislation, and this simply carries out the act of the legislature that was signed by the Governor. And it's really nothing more than that.

I'm absolutely amazed by the detail that goes on because what comes out of all of this debate, from my point of view which, ironically, comes from Members that represent Minnesota, is they don't trust Minnesotans to make the right decisions as to what part of that national forest would be used for trust lands. I find that mind-boggling.

I think the gentleman from northern Minnesota is doing right by his constituents with this legislation to correct what has happened 34 years ago.

So this is a good piece of legislation, Mr. Chairman. I urge it's adoption, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I respect the gentlelady's concern for Native Americans. As a matter of fact, I will simply say that's one of the reasons when I became chairman of Natural Resources Committee that we had a subcommittee dealing with their issues because I think they were being neglected in the past, and so I share that concern.

But this amendment, honestly, is really not necessary. And I have to say this, Mr. Chairman. At this very last minute here, as we're debating this on the floor, it raises an issue that has not previously been raised.

Let me just go back to the history of this legislation. This issue was not raised at any point during the subcommittee hearing or the full committee markup of this legislation, nor was this issue mentioned in the dissenting views that were filed by the minority in their bill report, nor was this issue raised by the gentlelady from Minnesota's detailed letter opposing this bill that was dated on July 24. So I don't know why it's coming up now when it was not previously raised in the legislative process.

But, Mr. Chairman, I can state very clearly that the Federal Government has a duty to uphold treaty obligations and trust responsibilities to Indian tribes. These will be upheld, and they are not changed by this bill.

There are inherent obligations that the Federal Government has to Indian tribes, and they need to be respected.

This amendment is not necessary and, as written, may potentially raise complex questions about whether the amendment itself would alter the treaty obligations of the Chippewa. The original treaty with the Chippewa of 1854 referred specifically to fishing and hunting rights. This amendment would add the phrase ``gathering'' to those rights, without any definition of scope of what that means.

Lastly, I will credit the Members, the gentlelady who's sponsoring this legislation, she said last night in the Rules Committee and here just a moment ago that, notwithstanding whether this amendment would pass or not, she would be opposing the bill. I take her at her word on that. But this is a last-minute issue that had not been raised.

It's not necessary for us to respect and uphold the rights of tribes, and I think it's being offered by somebody, as was stated, who is just simply opposed to the bill.

So for these reasons, I urge my colleagues to oppose the amendment. I understand the gentlelady has yielded back. I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself 2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment would undermine the purposes of the bill by allowing a Cabinet Secretary or even a low-level Federal bureaucrat the authority to override an act of Congress and delay this land exchange.

Let's be specific. This bill directs a land exchange of State lands for Federal forest lands. The simple result of the exchange will be that the boundaries would be State rather than Federal. The management of the lands exchanged in Minnesota will continue to be responsibly managed under State law.

Now, Mr. Chairman, under the U.S. Constitution, it is the legislative branch of government that writes our Nation's laws. It is the responsibility of the executive branch to execute the laws written by Congress. This amendment would result in giving the executive branch the ability to undermine or ignore written law. This land exchange would be subjected to years of costly red tape and bureaucratic foot-dragging. As a matter of fact, Mr. Chairman, that has been going on for 34 years. That's why we are here today.

The priority of the gentleman from Minnesota's bill is the schoolchildren of Minnesota, but it seems the priority of the amendment offered by the gentleman from New Jersey is more Federal red tape to protect Federal bureaucracy and more lawsuits. So I urge the defeat of this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 1/2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment is unnecessary, and it would allow the Federal bureaucracy an automatic excuse to stop implementation of this bill when it becomes law. It would provide the Forest Service with vague authorities to simply delay or outright block an act of Congress.

Does that sound familiar?

While presented as property rights protection, the plain fact is that this bill only involves the exchange of lands between State lands and State forestlands. So I want to be very clear that not one square inch of private property is included in this exchange. Again, this is only State and Federal lands.

I have to say, Mr. Chairman, on my committee, a lot of our discussion on a variety of issues talks about private property rights. When we have debate on that and when we have votes on amendments on those issues, I find it rather ironic that the party of the gentleman that is offering this amendment always tends to vote against those amendments that protect private property rights.

Once again, the net result of this amendment would be to give the Federal bureaucracy the ability to slow down carrying out this act.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, the purpose of this bill is to ensure a fair exchange of lands on States in Federal areas, and there are protections that were put specifically in the bill. Of course, the big protection is that the Secretary of Agriculture, who is a Federal representative in this process, has to agree. So, I mean, you have got one party, two parties that have to agree, and one of them is Federal. Now what could be more protection than that.

Now, let me go back just a minute. We seem to have to talk about the history of this.

The valuation of the land in 1978, when this wilderness area was developed--I wasn't here, nobody here on the floor that's debating this was here at that time; but I doubt if there was a valuation given to Minnesota at that time, and now they want to come back and say, okay, we have to have a precise valuation on the Federal level.

Come on. This corrects something that was not done in 1978. This amendment simply slows down the process, which I might add, Mr. Chairman, that seems to be what the process is with all four amendments that were taken up to date, slow down the process. Thirty-four years, isn't that long enough?

This is not a good amendment. I urge rejection of it, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Speaker, apparently the author of the motion to recommit did not read the underlying bill because what he seeks to do is say you can't exchange land that is open to essentially multiple use, recreational activities. On section 2 of page 5, very specifically in the bill, it says that these activities shall be allowed.

I don't know exactly what point the gentleman is trying to make by offering this motion to recommit, unless it is a political statement of some sort. Even if it's a political statement, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, it falls short in that regard.

Why do I say that? Because last spring, specifically on April 17, we had a bill that this body considered on the floor, H.R. 4089, authored by our colleague from Michigan, Mr. Benishek, called the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012. The essence of that bill was to allow hunting and recreation on Federal lands, and yet the author of the motion to recommit is coming down here saying we should have multiple use on this forest, but he voted against the bill, H.R. 4089, this spring.

I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, the crocodile tears I hear or see from the other side is overwhelming to me. This motion to recommit ought to be defeated. The land exchange that is authored by our colleague from Minnesota rights a wrong that was wrongly made 34 years ago.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the motion to recommit and ``yes'' on passage.

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