The Liberal Blue View From the Left
Author: Bernie DigmanOwner, Milagro Coffee
Don’t Fence Us Out
The idea is being promoted that New Mexico would benefit from a program of transferring federal lands to state ownership. I disagree.
What is being promoted is that a few very fortunate and wealthy individuals and companies in New Mexico would benefit from this sort of transfer. Those who end up owning privately what are now public lands would be the main beneficiaries. Those who enjoy public access to public lands would be the losers in perpetuity. The taxpayers in New Mexico would also lose in the long run.
The downside of this promotion far outweighs the upside for New Mexico and there are a number of reasons, but I offer my opinion on a few of the more important. First, New Mexico residents can’t afford such a transfer in the long run. Taking care of the lands currently owned by the state is a large enough job. New Mexico state parks are already seeing the reduction of hours and manpower from funding shortages. Adding to that burden with federal lands would require substantially larger resources and a bigger government.
Why would conservatives advocate for a larger government at the state level? They are aware that lands which are not deemed to be contributing to the state’s funding are often put on the “surplus” list, disposed of, and the proceeds credited to the education fund.
Some will argue that greater funding for the education establishment is a good idea. I would advocate for higher accountability, graduation rates and quality of education prior to adding another funding source.
Secondly, because the state cannot now afford to provide, for example, fire fighting services at a level needed for large fires it would be a huge liability for the state to assume responsibility for hundreds of thousands of forest acres. Were there to be large forest fires and the state were the primary party responsible for fighting these fires the funding would simply not be available.
The idea that the state would be able to take possession of large tracts of federal lands only to run to “big government” in the event large fires break out is a cynical and hypocritical position for advocates to take who believe in local control and less federal interference and dependence. New Mexico has no business assuming the burden of fighting massive wildfires simply to gain control of federal lands. The federal government is already struggling to cover the costs of these massive fires on federal lands and have resorted to transferring monies from other programs for firefighting efforts.
Not all of the federal lands, of course, are timbered. Much of the federal lands are used for grazing, mining and oil production. And subject to strict environmental oversight which preserves the land for future generations. I’m suspicious of any move by special interests to maneuver what are protected lands into the hands of private owners or state ownership if that lessens the environmental oversight.
Federal lands enjoy a management structure which allows them to be managed for different purposes. Some lands don’t have to produce revenue in the manner of state lands which in some cases means the fees are under-market. If the lands were transferred to state control, wouldn’t it set up the dynamic of either increasing fees such as grazing or camping or hunting in order to raise them to the same revenue standard as state lands?
The main objection I have for moving federal lands to state ownership is that eventually much of these lands would pass from state to private ownership. I’m not willing to see areas which are currently enjoyed by the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, camping, photography, site seeing, four-wheeling and other activities closed as they to fall into the hands of a small special interest group seeking to exploit the mineral, grazing or petroleum value.
Were there an effort to ensure, by law, that any federal lands transferred to the state would never be sold and would enjoy the same environmental protections, public access and multi-use as they currently use I might be able to support such a move. The question would be why would there be an effort of such a massive program if the end result were the same environmental and access protections?
The answer, to me, is that the effort is designed to rid the environmental and public access protections from the lands by transferring them to state and then private ownership. Moving federal lands to state ownership is a bad idea for New Mexico.
The Conservative Red View From the Right
Author: Yvette HerrellNew Mexico State Representative
Give “Local” Management a Chance
The promises are the same, so why the difference? According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the “Enabling Acts” are referred to as “trusts”, “solemn compacts” and “bi-lateral agreements” to be performed in a timely fashion. So why does the Federal Government manage only 4% of the lands east of Colorado and over 50% in the Western States. The promise of the Federal Government to extinguish title to the public lands was made to all newly created states both east and west of Colorado.
I have introduced the Transfer of Public Lands Act (TPLA) to jump-start the process by which federal lands are transferred to state control. This legislation is not a “land grab” and it will not be used to “privatize” any of our current public land. It will simply transfer relevant lands from federal control to state control. Excluded from the TPLA are lands under the supervision of the DOD, National Parks and Monuments, Wilderness Areas and our Reservations and Pueblos.
It is simply a way to protect the multiple uses that we as a state have enjoyed for over 100 years. More importantly, it will place land management in the hands of our state and local leaders where it belongs. We cannot afford to have businesses and jobs forced out of state because of burdensome regulations on public lands nor can we allow more of our forest to burn because of the lack of management.
The public lands in the Western States are no different than the lands in the east, outside of the more arid climate. Rather, the lands were simply held in trust until such a time when they could be sold and tax revenues would be given back to the states to fund education, grow their economies, and fund programs and services that our residents rely on. We are restricted by our own government from creating jobs and prospering like our neighbors to the east. Bob Williams of State Budget Solutions, wrote an 8/29/13 Op-Ed in Forbes Magazine, “The cause for concern in western states comes when that government reach is too big and too intrusive, and when the federal government fails to adequately manage that land.”
Because of the inability to retain revenues currently generated from our public lands, many of our counties are reliant on PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). This federal money comes to our counties to supplement budgets because we are unable to generate enough revenue from the taxable land base. For instance, Otero County can only tax 12% of the land within its borders. San Juan County is worse off with only 6% taxable land. Our counties have no choice but to rely on the Federal Government to sustain budget requirements, however, PILT funding continues to diminish and New Mexicans are the ones paying the price as programs and services are cut or underfunded.
One might argue that New Mexico cannot afford to manage the public lands. Fiscal Impact Reports for House Bill 292 in the 2013 Legislative Session estimated costs to New Mexico taxpayers totaling more than $180 million per year. However, the Department of Finance provided an FIR stating, “The potential fiscal impact of these additional royalty revenues (gas and oil industry) is $400 to $500 million annually.”
That is a potential positive budget impact of more than $300 million annually from lands being transferred back to New Mexico. Plus, money now sent to the federal government for “managing” our public lands would remain in state.
Utah has led the charge in these efforts passing the Transfer of Public Lands Act (Utah House Bill 148) in 2011 which demands Congress to relinquish ownership. Following suit are Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming which all passed similar bills and Resolutions in their 2013 Legislative Sessions. At the very least, New Mexico should follow the template set forth in the legislation passed in Nevada and create a task force to discuss the relevance and benefits of transferring our public lands back to New Mexicans.
The movement in the Western states is garnering support and attention across the country. Introduced by Representative Clemmons, House Resolution 3552 supporting the efforts of the Western States was passed by the South Carolina Legislature in February of 2013.
The TPLA is the only solution big enough to resolve our challenges. We have an obligation to protect our public lands from the hands of the Federal Government and we owe it to ourselves and the generations that follow to place ownership where it belongs … in New Mexico.