Initiative 1 is like an insurance policy — the big print gives you the money and the many pages of fine print take it away.
First, I'd like to compliment the Nature Conservancy for the many great things it has done for the state of Utah, but having said that, passing Initiative 1 is not in the best interest of the people of the state of Utah. While most people believe in clean air, clean water and open space, as I read the initiative, the initiative does little, if anything, to address any of these issues.
The initiative would put some $58 million in the Quality Growth Fund. The money is then divided out to conservation projects by a 13-member Quality Growth Commission. The important thing the public needs to understand is that the majority of these projects will be purchases of conservation easements. A conservation easement is simply a development right — a payment to a farmer or rancher to not develop his land. The owner still retains ownership of the property with no guarantee that the public will have access to the land for any purpose, including hunting or hiking. In many cases, these farms and ranches are in rural areas where there is a small chance they would be developed.
Wouldn't taxpayers rather see their money spent along the Wasatch Front or Wasatch Back on projects that they can use and enjoy? I know I would.
Another problem is the initiative puts millions of dollars into the State Divisions of Natural Resources, Parks, Wildlife Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality. What the administrators in these departments have to realize is that the state Legislature will likely simply deduct this amount from their appropriated budgets — we used to play that game all the time when I was speaker of the Utah House. These departments may then find that all their money is earmarked for conservation purposes and they have none left for important operational issues.
One part of this so-called Open Space Initiative that has me really scratching my head is the part that allocates $30 million to local building projects. What do convention centers, recreation centers and aquariums have to do with protecting clean water and open space? In addition, the state of Utah then becomes responsible for the taxes on these structures. Is that what we want? Shouldn't counties and municipalities be responsible for their own building needs?
If this initiative passes, the Legislature will have no choice but to rework this ill-conceived, poorly drafted document. While the goals of preserving clean water and open space are admirable, this measure doesn't achieve those ends.
And what about the state's other financial needs, including transportation, education and public safety? With the state's bonding capacity stretched to its limit by this initiative, how will the Legislature find funds for these other important items?
Please vote NO on Initiative 1. While its stated goals are laudatory, I'm sure that once everyone reads the fine print, they will realize that this measure creates a financial boondoggle that we simply cannot afford.
Jim Hansen is the retired former chairman of the House Resources Committee.