Take it back.
Oh, so tempting.
The Quixotic crusade to force the federal government to give state governments millions of acres hit town this week.
Utah state lawmaker Ken Ivory made an eloquent case for slapping a tin can on our heads, saddling up the plowhorse and charging the wildly spinning windmill.
Five western states have already passed resolutions calling on the federal government to deliver on a century-old promise to “dispose” of federal land. Sometime in the early 1900s as a plucky succession of western states joined the union, the federal government started hanging onto vast expanses of public land.
As a result, property-tax-paying private land accounts for just 1.5 percent of the acreage in Gila County, casting a pall across both the economy and the financial stability of local governments.
Alas, Ivory starts with a compelling premise — then spins off in to all sorts of strange fantasies and ungainly logical leaps. For starters, he says the federal government provides about 54 percent of the state’s budget — which we’ll lose when the United States goes broke. So we should rev up some timber sales and cattle leases to replace the coming, $16 billion shortfall — as though we can recreate the wild west when the country goes broke.
Now, make no mistake. We grasp the underlying point. The federal government’s made a mess of federal lands. Look no further than the ridiculous and surreal struggle the Rim Country Education Alliance has undertaken to buy 260 acres of Forest Service land Congress earmarked for disposal about 12 years ago. Backers of a plan to build a university here have spent huge sums and precious time trying to acquire the land. Although the Forest Service has concluded the sale of the land would not bother any endangered critters but would benefit taxpayers enormously — the sale process drags on and on and on and on.
If that’s not evidence enough, then study the pathetic history of the 4-Forest Restoration Initiative. Handed a way to restore the forests at no cost to taxpayers, the Forest Service has botched and bungled the plan at every turn, as the wildfires burn.
So, we get it. The federal government has badly mismanaged federal lands, to the deep distress of rural communities like Payson.
But will a long, bitter, semi-hysterical effort to force the feds to disgorge millions of acres fix any of those problems?
For starters, the Arizona Legislature may be the only body manifestly less competent than the U.S. Forest Service. The Legislature has gutted the state parks system. The lethal Yarnell Fire burned mostly on state trust lands. And the state Legislature remains obsessed with ideological rants and the interests of Maricopa County — with hardly a thought for the rural areas most affected by the mule-headedness of the Forest Service. Ivory argues that the narrow rural tax base accounts for the pathetic funding of our public schools. Yeah, right. Truth be told, the state Legislature has conclusively demonstrated its indifference to school funding year after year.
So simply handing federal lands over to the Arizona Legislature sounds like a plan to take the baby away from the senile grandmother and rely on the pet boa constrictor to provide day care.
We agree with Ivory’s premise: The federal government’s short-sighted, blind-sided, blunt-force management of public lands in Arizona constitutes a continuing affront to taxpayers — and rural communities.
But we’d rather rouse voters to insist on a change in federal policy than slap a saucepan on our aching head and waste a decade trying to frighten a bunch of spinning windmills.