Whose land is it anyway?

On April 29, 2013

Several Western states are struggling with how to react to the mineral lease and royalty payment sequestration cuts by the federal Department of the Interior. But there is an argument to be made that states should not be in this position in the first place.

The American Lands Council (ALC) has advocated for the transfer of public lands from the federal government back to the states. Rep. Ken Ivory of Utah led his state in passing a Transfer of Public Lands Act that orders the federal government to extinguish its claims to public lands in the state. ALC has argued that the furthest west states in the early 19th century similarly opposed the federal government’s retention of public lands following statehood and were eventually successful in gaining land for the state. Ivory and ALC contend that if the federal government were to extinguish its claim today, the Western states could plug a major gap in education funding by opening up those lands for development and state taxation revenue.

Although Western states face a unique problem in divorcing the federal government from its state budget calculation, the reliance federal funds is a serious problem for all states. As State Budget Solutions tracked in our report on Federal Aid to the States from 2008 to 2011, all but one state (Alaska) had at least one quarter of its revenues coming from the federal government in 2011. Not surprisingly, the top five Western states hit hardest by the cutbacks in lease and royalty payments had very high percentages of federal government revenue-ranging from 31.55 percent (Utah) to 42.57 percent (New Mexico).

In all, the land in the states that touch or are west of the Rocky Mountains contain less than 50 percent of state-controlled land-the federal government holds the majority. Unfortunately, because of this arrangement, Western states are forced to rely on the federal government for revenues from this land. But until the ownership of federal lands changes hands, states will have to plan for these and future federal cuts.

Some states are taking proactive steps to ensure that they are prepared for possible funding reductions. Utah passed HB 138 in 2011, requiring that state agencies report the federal funds that they receive and create a plan for set percentage cuts by the federal government. Anticipating federal cuts, Virginia and Vermont opted to put aside state funds to make up the difference. Such action has gone from mere preparation to a necessity, and all states will have to come up with similar solutions very soon.

Read the original here.

photo by: Dougtone

Comments are closed.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can
take care of it!