State Policy Network and Americans for Tax Reform co-hosted a lunch briefing featuring Carl Graham, director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West. Graham, who is a Navy veteran and has previously served as CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, led a roundtable discussion regarding the federal government’s overreach and inefficacy in its management of federally-controlled lands in the western states.

Currently, the coalition has focused their efforts into two programs, namely: Transfer of Public Lands in the West, and Financial Ready.

Within western states, the percentage of land owned and controlled by the federal government is staggering- as an example, 84.5% of Nevada. In total, past the Nebraska line, over 600 million acres falls under this control. With such a large area at the whims of the government, states’ autonomy is threatened.

As Graham said:

“The idea that you can better manage lands from Washington, D.C. than the people who are on the ground and have managed and worked with those lands, literally for generations, is ludicrous on its face, but it’s frankly insulting.”

A release from the Coalition for Self-Government in the West elaborated:

“Many Western lands hold vast resources and opportunity if responsibly managed. Multiple generations of Western families have improved our lands while feeding, clothing and providing energy for our nation, and we can continue to do so.”

Transfer of Public Lands in the West seeks to enact legislation that would direct the government to transfer ownership of federally-owned multiple-use lands to the states. This could lead to massive revenue increases, as well as the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

A study from the University of Wyoming supported this initiative, stating:

“The numbers are staggering. Under the best possible scenario, the opening up of federal lands would lead to $26.5 billion in annual gross regional product, more than $5 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments, and roughly 208,000 jobs.”

Collected data already supports this conclusion, as a report by the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force showed a stark difference between the financial payoff of state-owned land versus federally owned land. Land owned by state trusts in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah between 2008-2012 held a five year average of $28.29 net revenue per acre. For those lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, there was a net loss of -$0.91 per acre.

The Coalition for Self-Government in the West also runs Financial Ready. Due to their lower tax base, Western states are forced to be more financially dependent on federal funds.  When this funding is slashed, it leaves individuals and infrastructures in the western states more vulnerable.

Under Financial Ready, states would take an audit of federal funds that come into the state, and evaluate the risks and strings accompanying that funding. With that inventory, the state would be able to prioritize and prepare for budgetary changes that would impact their constituents. This program was implemented in Utah in 2011, and has begun the process of developing contingency plans. 

“This is a bipartisan thing,” said Graham. “You prepare for earthquakes, you prepare for fire; states need to prepare for the day when 33% of their budget is at risk.”

For more information about Carl Graham, or the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, please visit their website: www.EndFedAddiction.org