TEA Party congressional candidate Matt Rosendale and a militia-affiliated TEA Partier state senator have glommed onto a likely unconstitutional land grab idea pushed by out-of-staters that is a financial black hole for Montanans and a nightmare for Montana’s economy and environment.
Here’s why the plot copied from Utah by Jennifer Fielder, the TEA Party state senator who is vice-Chair of the Montana GOP, and Rep. Kerry White (TEA Gallatin County) so poorly conceived and is more about pushing state sovereignty anti-government uprising ideology. It’s certainly not about jobs or fiscal responsibility.
Our federal public lands are what make Montana so great. The TEA Party land grab targets the Rocky Mountain Front, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Beartooths, the Bitterroot-Selway, the national forests and scenic areas surrounding our national parks including Going to the Sun Road, and all of our national wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. These are the places where we go to ride horses, hike, hunt, fish, ski, bike or just relax outside with our pets, friends and families. These public lands don’t belong only to the 2015 Montana legislature and the special interests who would sell them off– they belong to all Americans for generations to come. The GOP’s June 2014 platform does not include an exemption for national parks.
Perhaps most obviously, the TEA Party land grab would limit public access to public lands. If this TEA Party and grab succeeds many of these lands could be sold or developed, strip mined, strip malls. Whatever. Montanans can expect to encounter a whole lot of “No Trespassing” signs.
What’s more, the Fielder/White attack on our public lands could cost also Montana taxpayers untold millions of dollars. Consider what’s happening in Utah, the state which recently passed the dubious law which the MT TEA-bunch is modeling their land grab scheme after. The Utah legislature’s own lawyers have said that the land grab bill will only trigger a costly and ultimately futile legal battle because it has a “high probability of being declared unconstitutional.” The litigation costs to taxpayers will likely run into the millions of dollars.
And that’s just the litigation to defend this unconstitutional nonsense. That’s not even including the cost to manage the federal lands, which Montana taxpayers would now have to assume.
In Utah, the federal government spends between $200 and $300 million per year managing public lands (including fire fighting)–Utah has about 35 million acres of federal land.
In Idaho, the federal government spends more than $300 million per year in managing public lands–Idaho has about 33 million acres of federal land. These numbers also include the costs of fighting wildland fires.
If you’re wondering what the federal management costs in Montana are, consider that we have about 27 million acres of federal lands.
Compare that with the fact that the state of Montana can barely manage to fully fund its own state parks budget because legislators refuse to appropriate the needed funds. The state of Montana spends a measly $600,000 in state funds to manage our state parks. That means that’s the only state money the legislature would allocate to manage our state parks public lands–that doesn’t come from hunting and fishing licenses or federal funds anyway. If Montana did gain control over federal public lands, Montana taxpayers would be stuck with the cost of managing federal lands too–to the tune of a couple hundred million.
Some right-wingers may say “well let’s just clearcut log federal land to pay these costs.” In fact, the Idaho Department of Lands came up with an estimate that the state could raise $50 million to $75 million annually in timber receipts from federal land.
But one cost not figured into Idaho’s estimate would actually negate any anticipated revenue gains. That’s what are called “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” or PILT funds. These payments make up for former timber revenues and compensating for the fact that counties can’t tax federal land–they amount to $58 million in Idaho. If the lands weren’t federal, local governments would lose those funds. The situation is the same in Montana–and other states. (Also, earth to the pro-logging crowd It’s not environmental protections that dictate how much logging is done –its demand for timber in the free market economy.)
That’s why TEA Party Republican Jan Brewer, who is Arizona’s Governor vetoed a land grab bill in her state because it would have overstressed the state’s budget and land management abilities. As the Salt Lake Tribune commented,
“[t]hat’s a much more logical view than the pipe dream held by Utah lawmakers, that the seizure of public lands would be a fiscal bonanza for the state.”
The White/Feilder TEA Party assault on our public lands is also bad for business. Nearly eleven million visitors come to Montana each year, spending $3.7 billion dollars and supporting 13,000 jobs–largely to enjoy our public lands. Just as important, our public lands are the single greatest reason why many people and businesses chose to locate and invest in Montana. An increasing number of studies show that rural counties in the West with protected public landscapes see better economic and job growth than counties lacking protected landscapes. To the contrary, Feilder’s and White’s TEA Party agenda is to sell off and exploit – not protect and promote – our great places to fish, hunt, and recreate.
The White/Fielder plan will create enormous regulatory quagmire for grazing, drilling, and mining interests who now hold or are seeking permits and leases on our federally-managed public lands. This uncertainty will deter, not encourage, appropriate mineral, agriculture and energy development. No business wants to come here and embroil itself in endless morass of risks and unknowns. This seems like an obvious point, but the TEA Partiers don’t seem to get it.
Finally, Fielder and White claim this is about “returning” federal lands to the state – the state never owned these lands in the first place, the federal government took them from Native Americans. So if they are to be “returned” to anyone, it should be the tribes.
After all, just because an idea is ludicrous never stopped imbeciles in the TEA Party from forcing Republicans to swear oaths to support it. Check out this TEA Party video of a GOP primary candidate forum co-hosted by the Flathead County Republican Women and the NW MT TEA Party Patriots.
The TEA Partiers asked only three questions.
Would the candidates support denying tribal sovereignty and water rights to the First Montanans? (By blocking this, Republicans are costing the state of Montana yet more untold millions in legal fees through years of litigation.)
Would they reject federal funds to pay for 100% of the health are costs for 70,000 working poor and Veterans in Montana? Montana loses $1.8 million every day that these funds are refused.
And would they support this unconstitutional TEA Party land grab to tank Montana’s economy, which would also cost the state millions.
The candidates answered as the forum organizers demanded – even though the TEA partiers’ ideological positions are the opposite of fiscally responsible.