HCR19, HB357: Bipartisan public lands measures pass unanimously

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Jamison Metzger
The federal government retains two-thirds of Utah’s land, including national parks such as Zion National Park pictured here. This is land the state of Utah does not receive tax revenue from. (Jamison Metzger)

Two measures calling on the federal government for compensation in lieu of non-taxable land, passed the House and Senate unanimously with wholehearted support from both parties.

HCR19 — sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake — would ask the federal government to compensate Utah for revenue lost by nontaxable federal land. This resolution has no power to change federal policy other than to register state lawmakers’ opinion with federal authorities and Congress.

HB357 — sponsored by Ivory and Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville — charges to hold hearings with public lands stake holders to determine a fair amount of compensation in lieu of taxes from the federal government. It would require the commission to bring forth its findings by 2019.

The federal government owns about 66 percent of Utah’s land. In 1976, the federal government established that states would not receive tax revenue from this land; Congress promised states would receive payment in lieu of taxes.

“Promise” seemed to be the keyword during the committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 22, as lawmakers encouraged a bill that would hold the federal government to this promise.

“We teach our children that a promise is a promise,” Ivory said. “In fact, that’s the underlying basis of our law and what we do in government.”

Ivory said “in lieu” should mean “equal to.” However, he said Utah makes more in two months from tax revenue on the taxable land than it has in 20 years from the federal government’s compensation.

Ivory said this is money that should be going towards Utah’s schools and communities.

“There’s a lot we disagree on with public lands, but the one thing we all agree on is that our children should not be getting the short end of the stick,” Ivory said.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, spoke in favor of HCR19. He said the federal government recognizes that the amount of federally owned land in Utah is a detriment to Utah monetarily. He said it’s time to get a fair deal from the federal government.

“We may not always see eye-to-eye,” King said. “This is a good example of something where we can find common ground as Republicans and Democrats.”

While speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, reminded the committee that there are many promises the federal government needs to honor better.

“The federal government has made many promises to my people, too — people indigenous to this country,” Romero said. “I always like to remind people of that.”

Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, was surprised by the number of lawmakers supporting the bill from both parties.

“I want to know what’s wrong with this bill. We’ve got everyone in this place in favor of a public lands bill; I’ve got to know what’s wrong with it,” Noel joked before offering his support for the bill.

As of Thursday, Feb. 22 both HCR19 and HB357 passed House and Senate and will move on to the governor for signature. (Rachel Andrews)

Both HCR19 and HB357 passed unanimously in a show of bipartisanship. The only step left in the legislative process is a governor signature.

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