Goodbye Mr. Obama; Hello Chairman Mao

Copyright Lewiston Tribune. Written by Marty Trillhaase January 28, 2013.

Goodbye Mr. Obama; Hello Chairman Mao

If you’ve got a yen for owning public land, Idaho could be your kind of place.

The state leadership is on the verge of reviving the old Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s.

And you know where that leads, don’t you?

The scenario played itself out again Monday. Addressing what some have described as a fawning collection of legislators, including House Resources and Environment Committee Chairman (and former House Boss) Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, Utah Rep. Ken Ivory laid out the plan.

Just like Utah, Idaho should demand that Uncle Sam relinquish its public lands within the Gem State. Excluding national parks, designated wilderness areas, military and tribal lands, that still leaves millions of acres of national forests and range lands.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

No more petty federal bureaucrats.

No more pesky federal regulations.

Idaho would be free to chart its own destiny.

Of course, it’s a long shot. Why would Congress and the president hand over a national treasure to no more than 1.5 million people lucky enough to live nearby? But for the sake of argument, say they do.

Get ready for some sticker shock.

Last year, the U.S. Forest Service spent $158.7 million managing its seven national forests within the Gem State.

To manage its 12 million acres scattered throughout Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management allocated $117 million.

Last year, battling wildfires on Idaho’s national forests consumed more than $230 million – second only to the 2007 season. As Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told Boise’s City Club last month, global warming means fighting fires is going to take longer and cost more.

BLM spent $22.15 million battling rangefires in Idaho.

That $528 million spent on federal forests and ranges helps explain why Idaho gets $1.28 back from the federal government for every $1 in income taxes paid.

So if the feds give Idaho this land, it hands over the expenses as well.

Such as the cost of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) and the Clean Air Act.

Reclaiming every one of those abandoned mines on national forest and BLM land would now become the responsibility of the Idaho taxpayer.

Where would Idaho cough up the dough?

Not from a $2.8 billion state budget that has yet to climb out of a recessionary crater. To come up with that kind of money, you’d have to withhold 19 percent from everything state government does – from schools to higher education and from health care to prisons.

Not from the state’s reserves. If everything goes according to plan, it will have no more than $85 million in the bank by June 30, 2014.

Not from increased user fees. Take grazing, for instance. Idaho charges more for grazing leases on its lands than does the BLM – and still loses money. Presumably, the same pattern – higher fees to ranchers, no return for taxpayers – would take shape if Idaho acquired and managed the federal rangelands.

So you’re left with two tasteless alternatives:

  • Raise taxes. How likely is that when Idaho’s Legislature is infatuated with cutting taxes for the well-to-do and big corporations? Last year, it reduced income taxes by $35 million. This year, the state is contemplating a $141 million drop in the property taxes businesses pay on equipment.
  • Selling off the lands to the highest bidder. But that’s no panacea. Under Ivory’s bill, 95 percent of any proceeds would go back to the federal treasury to pay off the national debt; 5 percent would go toward a permanent trust for public schools.

At that point, who would have the resources – and the long view – to bail out Idaho?

Who has been collecting billions of promissory notes from the American treasury?

Who has been on the winning side of the balance of trade?

You guessed it.

Looking for permission to fish or hunt on public lands that would fall into private hands?

Start learning Mandarin.

Want to camp on some of those lands?

Start paying in yuan.

Don’t like Barack Hussein Obama?

Say hello to Mao Zedong. – M.T.


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