GOP Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder has published a screed in the Billings Gazette telling us that the shrinking land takeover group she runs has met and decided to keep pushing its land takeover scheme. This in spite of the fact that “for many on both sides of the aisle, no issue seems as wasteful, ill-conceived or dead on arrival as the transfer of public lands.” Indeed, Montana’s legislature has panned this idea over and over, and a University of Montana poll found that 2/3 of Montanans oppose the idea.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that any time you hear a TEA Partier spout “give greater control to the states” they’re talking about hokum that wouldn’t fly under any kind of serious analysis, but would do just fine in Sanders County militia land where they believe wildlife research on local bear populations are part of a conspiracy to conduct surveillance on the militia movement. (No joke.) We already know GOP attorneys general from 15 western states, including Montana’s own Tim Fox, found that this land takeover nonsense is a veritable garbage fire in the legal viability department.
But just because an idea is ludicrous never stopped imbeciles in the TEA Party from beating Republicans over the head with demands to support it. TEA Party land-boarder Matt Rosendale and Fielder, who is also a militia-affiliated TEA Partier state senator are still clinging to this unconstitutional land takeover scheme even though it is a financial black hole for Montanans and a nightmare for Montana’s economy.
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” so called 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 TEA Partiers may say “well let’s just clearcut log federal land to pay these costs.” The Idaho Department of Lands already thought of this, and came up with an estimate that the state could raise $50 million to $75 million annually in timber receipts from federal land.
But one simple 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.)
It would also create an 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.
Plus most people have already figured out that this whole nonsense is more about pushing state sovereignty anti-government uprising ideology. It’s certainly not about jobs or fiscal responsibility. It’s not that difficult to grasp that taking over federal public lands could cost also Montana taxpayers untold millions of dollars.