The three-man Utah House delegation went in three different directions again Monday as Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, introduced a third version of a bill to swap state school trust lands locked within national parks, forests and Indian reservations.
That came on the eve of House hearings scheduled for all day Tuesday on competing versions earlier introduced by Reps. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Jim Hansen, R-Utah. Those hearings were to feature all Utah members of Congress, Gov. Norm Bangerter, local leaders and environmental and school groups.Owens' staff earlier complained that Hansen, Bangerter and other Republicans double-crossed them when Hansen introduced what was supposed to be a joint delegation bill - and put out personal press releases - without first allowing Democrats to join it.
So Owens introduced a slightly different version himself, including some provisions Republicans dislike, such as prohibiting use of traded land as dumps for hazardous waste.
Orton's bill has yet additional provisions, including allowing the state to trade lands on an acre-for-acre basis without first setting cash value for the lands.
"I believe that it is not in Utah's long-term interest to increase the percentage of federal lands in Utah by selling state lands to the federal government.
"My proposal would give the state the option of retaining the present percentage of non-federal ownership and has the potential for returning much more revenue to the school trust fund," he said.
Revenue from leases on trust lands go to help fund Utah schools. Those lands surrounded by national parks produce no revenue, so the state wants to trade it for other federal land that does.
"I share the concern of most
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Utahns that educating our children is an absolute top priority," Orton said. "Since the federal government action amounts to a `taking' of the state's lands locked in these reserved areas, the state should have the right to take other federal land in exchange." Orton's proposal also would require that land transferred to the federal government be replaced with some acreage in the same county.
It also would require the state to make up any lost federal revenue to rural counties that might result from the swaps. Some federal payments in lieu of taxes are based on federal acreage within counties.
"I am particularly concerned that rural counties not be harmed in any proposed land exchange," Orton said.