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Open space initiative adds debt, restricts debate

Clean water, clean air and quality growth are what we all want. How does Initiative 1 do in this effort? Before you decide, read the details of the "open space" initiative.

The fine print mandates that the statewide sales tax increase first pays $30 million for convention centers, capital improvement to government buildings, water treatment facilities or museums. Next, more than $100 million of your tax dollars will be spent by a commission, not elected by and not answering to the people of Utah and able to reduce the state's private property base. Ultimately, the initiative expands the indebtedness of our state by $150 million that will require around $40 million in interest payments on the bond.

Initiatives lack the benefits of the legislative process to debate, to compromise and to weigh the impacts on other public needs. Initiatives in general are vulnerable to emotion and special interests capable of high spending campaigns requiring simple yes or no answers to complex questions. The proponents have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Initiatives interfere with the trust we place in our system of government and those we elect.

Utah lands are nearly 75 percent federal- and state-government owned. We are second only to Alaska in percent of federal land ownership at 66 percent. These lands are open space enjoyed by Utahns and other visitors.

With only 21 percent of Utah lands privately owned, our elected policymakers recognize the challenge of meeting the needs of our growing state. Utah's education system is largely funded through property taxes. Utah's Quality Growth Commission has said, "In a state with a preponderance of public lands, our state must strive over time to achieve a net gain in private lands." Statewide sales taxes should not be used to purchase land or title. Local communities should determine priorities and commit the tax dollars. The citizens of Delta or Panguitch should not be asked to pay more sales taxes for open space or building projects in Salt Lake City, Provo or Logan. In addition, residents of the Wasatch Front should not determine the open space values of Kanab or Blanding. Counties like Wayne, Garfield and Kane, with less than 5 percent privately held lands, need more private property, not less, for their economic futures.

Utah is already making major financial commitments and great strides in preserving our quality of life. The argument that the Legislature has refused to take action on clean air, clean water and open space values is unfair and untrue.

A review of the investment Utah taxpayers are already making is impressive. More than $1.5 billion has been invested over the last decade by our elected representatives through the Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Agriculture, the LeRay McCallister Fund, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Clean Water Act Section 319, Endangered Species Mitigation Fund, Colorado River Salinity Program, numerous county open space initiatives and many more.

Utah's elected officials have been judicious in the use of the state's bonding powers not to overobligate our repayment ability, critical in maintaining our triple A bond rating. Initiative 1 mandates the state of Utah to borrow $150 million plus pay millions in interest. This initiative competes directly with other critical needs of the state that are being debated in Utah's legislative process.

Given the opportunity, Utah's farmers and ranchers are going to maintain our open lands. Profitability in agriculture will provide this balance without additional societal costs or government actions.

After careful review of what Initiative 1 does, your "no" vote will reaffirm what the Founding Fathers of this great nation created — a representative government that balances decisions based on full debate from all sides.

Leland Hogan is a farmer/rancher in Stockton. He has served on the Tooele County Commission and Utah Quality Growth Commission. He is currently president of the Utah Farm Bureau which represents more than 22,000 member families in Utah.