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The West's Fight for Self Governance

Date post:21-Jun-2015
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The West's Fight for Self Government by Carl Graham, article published in insider magazine.
  • 1. Conservative Ideas For Advancing Liberty INSIDERthe Summer 2014INSIDE: Fossil Fuels Advantages................ 4War for the West............................14Fixing Health Care......................... 22Help Your Donors Plan................. 32

2. 14 | THE INSIDER Summer 2014 3. Visit InsiderOnline.org | 15THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OWNS NEARLY half of all land west of Nebraska, and it is increasingly using that ownership to cut Western states off from the natural resources and tax bases they need to take care of themselves. National polls show a lack of trust in the federal government and a growing reluctance to accept its expanding power. But the one-two punch of resource ownership and the flow of federal funds gives the federal government a seemingly free hand to dictate how Western states educate their kids, manage their economies, and provide core public services. In effect, they are becoming states of dependence.Many of these states are pushing back to restore a balance between individual and states rights and responsibilities on one hand versus the federal estate and federal government intrusions on the other. But this Western backlash against federal overreach could also ripple across the country and help set the tone for Americans future relationships with their federal overseers.Much of the growth in federal power is being done under the aegis of cooperative federalism, where the federal government basically buys the rope and lets the states hang themselves. Many Western states would like to get rid of that rope by asking a very simple question: Why not govern ourselves? Why accept being states of dependence?Just imagine if America could restore that proper balance and make government more accountable by bringing it closer to home; if we could have a servant instead of a master, a government that works for us, not against us. Imagine being able to decide our future; to figure out how to best educate each of our kids, how to steward our lands, and to provide for our public safety and services using local solutions that take into account local resources and local needs rather than imposed or one-size-fits-all dictates. 4. 16 | THE INSIDER Summer 2014But increasing federal power doesnt allow us to govern ourselves, and we can get an idea of who is most at risk by looking at whos manning the barricades against overreaching and often counterproductive federal policies. The West is the proverbial canary in the coalmine as the federal government is able to impose more of its power and create greater dependence by controlling access to Western resources.Thats why you see Nevada ranchers getting on their horses and riding to the district Bureau of Land Management offices to protest new grazing restrictions. Its why ATV riders in Utah are protesting trail closures on public lands that they have used responsibly for generations. Its why county commissioners in New Mexico are threatening to break locksinstalled by federal officialsthat block access to water that ranchers have used responsibly and improved since before New Mexico was even a state. And its why Utah certified public accountants called upon the legislature to get a better handle on the inherent risks of depending on federal funds to perform core state functions.The primary vulnerability to federal overreach in the West is the states lack of control over their own resources. The primary driver for that lack of control is the simple fact that they dont own the land those resources are on and under. Fifty percent of all land, over 600 million acres, west of the Colorado/ Nebraska line is owned by the federal government, making up 91 percent of all federal lands in the nation. Thats enough land to cover every state on the Eastern Seaboard, plus Kansas, plus Texas, plus France. Thats just unfair: Western states are cut off from 50 percent of their tax base and have little say over 50 percent of their economic potential, just because they came to the Union later in our nations history.If the federal government owned half the casinos in Las Vegas and started shutting down blackjack tables, how many people would lose their jobs? If they owned half the Florida beaches and started fencing them off, what would that do to the local tax base? Las Vegas has casinos. Florida has beaches. The West has natural resources. Taking 50 percent of anyones or any industrys livelihood off the table is going to hurt in ways that are as obvious as they are avoidable.Some say these lands are national treasures that belong to all of us. Yes, some of them are. But not a lot of them. Nobody is seriously talking about taking over or closing down national parks, or wilderness areas, or other unique or fragile places. These special lands are the exception and should remain the exception. But they comprise a small fraction of the federal estate in the West.Generally speaking, those types of special lands make up less than 15 percent of federal holdings in any given Western state. The vast majority are lands amenable to (and originally designated for) multiple uses, including recreational, aesthetic, and economic purposes. Thats 20 million to 30 million acresan area the size of Virginiawithin each Western state that can and should be used with the complementary goals of conserving the land and bettering the human condition.Five states are somewhere in the process of demanding control of federal lands to further those goals. Utah has passed a law, the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demands that most of thoseIf the federal government owned half the casinos in Las Vegas and started shutting down blackjack tables, how many people would lose their jobs? If they owned half the Florida beaches and started fencing them off, what would that do to the local tax base? 5. Visit InsiderOnline.org | 17multiple-use lands be turned over to state control. Four other states, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada, are studying the pros and cons of making similar demands. Those states will consider bills similar to Utahs during their 2015 legislative sessions, while several others will step up their efforts to study the issue.Work is also being done at the congressional level by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and others. In the end, though, just as each parcel of land will have its own unique best use, each state is probably going to have its own tailored solution. These are lands with trillions of dollars in resources, billions of dollars in potential tax revenues, and hundreds of thousands of jobs being increasingly locked up by people who really dont understand what is at stake. And its not just dollars and cents.Its ironic that many of the very people who rightly care about diversity are also acting to choke off an entire way of life. They are imposing their values on the rural production economy in ways and with effects that they often dont understand. Most Western states are working to stop thatto protect the lands, enhancing conservation and bettering of the human condition, while using those lands for enjoyment and productivity now and long into the future. In short, to be proper stewards.Western states lack of control over their resources opens another means of federal imposition and control. The federal government accounts for an increasing portion of state budgets, often to those states detriment. On average, about a third of state spending is provided by federal funds. In Western states, one of the reasons for this increased dependence is lack of access to their revenue base. But these federal funds are not gifts. They are being used to tell Westerners how to educate their kids; how to provide for public safety; how to run 6. 18 | THE INSIDER Summer 2014their businesses, their charities, and their government; and how to take care of their environment and resources.This dependence isnt just a Western problem. Its happening with states across the nation. Much of the federal funding for the states is discretionary spending. As interest rates return to historical norms, discretionary spending will be further squeezed between entitlement spending (which cannot be cut except through program reforms) and servicing the national debt (which is a legal obligation of the government). Again, Western states are the canary in the coalmine because of the combined effects of their dependence and lack of flexibility in addressing future federal budget surprises. So they need to create a plan for when the next federal funding crisis occurs.States need to have their eyes wide open to see federal funds and the strings that are attached to them. They need to measure the risks of accepting those funds against the rewards. They need to do what we all do in our everyday lives: prepare. They need to plan for that day when those funds dry up so that the right programs are cut or maintained. Its unbelievable that states dont already have that level of foresight or havent done that basic planning, but they dont and they havent.This type of responsible pushback and planning also goes beyond just wanting to do the right things. It advances conservatism and conservative principles. These are winning issues for a center-right country. They show the costs of and provide alternatives to going down the wrong path.This task is important because the Left is working to change the electoral map. Its trying to create a permanent majority by making more people dependent on, more beholden to, and just flat-out scared of criticizing a stronger federal bureaucracy.The Left increases dependence through increased benefits. Food stamp recipients are at record numbers. ObamaCare raises the cost of health care and 7. Visit InsiderOnline.org | 19then subsidizes the increase. What a deal! Theyve taken a basic need and turned it into a government- issued privilege like a drivers license.The Lefts policies are also increasing the number of individuals and businesses beholden to big government by explic

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