OPINION – It is no secret that Utah has an ever growing angst towards the federal government for its retained possession and control of public lands. In last week’s ON Kilter column, I wrote that Utah is planning to spend some $3 million of school trust funds to finance a lawsuit against the federal government. Allow me to clarify and develop a foundation for further consideration.
When I was asked by representatives of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Association, SITLA, to source my claim, a weeklong conversation with them and others ensued. An editorial note was added to last week’s column, providing reference to an academic journal I had drawn upon from Maurer School of Law: Indiana University, discussing the Sagebrush Rebellion as Un-Cooperative Federalism (linked here) in which the author analyzes Utah legislation introduced in 2010 as H.B. 323. But that, too, does not resolve my contention as the particular bill discussed in the Mauer Law School article later failed in legislative committee.
In short, SITLA manages lands and administers funds at the behest of the state legislature. Two portions of SITLA funds have been legislatively directed to two special accounts: one, a Land Exchange Distribution Account, established in 2007 under then House Bill 134; and two, a Constitutional Defense Restricted Account, established in 2010 under then H.B. 324 – a successor bill, incidentally, to H.B. 323 which failed in committee.
The earlier 2010 H.B. 323, cited in my clarification, failed to get traction in large part due to SITLA’s objections to the wording of the bill and how the money was to be allocated for the constitutional defense lawsuit. But, that same year, yet another bill, H.B. 324, was introduced and passed creating the account on SITLA’s books for constitutional defense.
The law as enrolled allows for the initial $1 million generated from certain trust lands in specified fiscal years to be first and foremost allocated through the pass-through land exchange account and into the constitutional defense account – with a cap of $5 million.
The revenue is generated from land that is rich in mineral and energy resources which was given to the state in exchange for land designated by President Bill Clinton for national monument, specifically Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
The particulars of this exchange and how it is profitable to Utah through SITLA is beyond the scope of this column. But, for now, suffice it to say that SITLA wants it to be made known that the monies being allocated and distributed through these accounts do not affect or deplete money that is lawfully intended to go to public schools.
The expressed purpose of SITLA, according to its mission statement found on the SITLA website, is:
Starting in 1785, the Founding Fathers created a plan whereby territories were granted land before statehood to support schools. In 1894, shortly before Utah became a state, Congress created a land trust including one-ninth of the land of the state to support our public schools. Today, schools still have 3.3 million acres scattered around the state. If these scattered parcels were combined, it would make a parcel of land about the size of the state of Connecticut. These lands are held by the state as trustee for our public schools, which are the beneficiaries (or those that benefit from the proceeds from the trust). The lands are managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). All net revenue is saved in the permanent State School Fund, which is now over $1 billion. Since 1995, when SITLA was created by the legislature, net revenue has increased from $15 million to about $80 million annually through prudent and profitable management of the lands.
There appears to be a very fine line between that mission statement and what $80 million of annual revenue is actually good for.
One could assert that using money generated from land given in trust to the state being used to then sue the very authority which first granted the trust land – the federal government – is Machiavellian in nature.
One could also reasonably question whether that money would be better spent elsewhere – like say, on schools?
We should talk about this.
See you out there.
- HB 134 as enrolled Utah 2007 – Land Exchange Distribution Account
- HB 323 – failed in committee – Utah 2010 – Constitutional Defense Account – failed
- HB 323 substitute – failed in committee – Utah 2010 – Constitutional Defense Account – failed
- HB 324 as enrolled Utah 2010 – Constitutional Defense Restricted Account – passed
- ON Kilter: Bundy, revolutionary or rebel? The changing nature of the West – last week’s column
- Nevada follows Utah in exploring transfer of public lands
- ‘Where’s the line?’ Ivory’s crusade to return public lands to the states
- Land use bills could hold key to restoring state powers
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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