This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act (HB148) is about educational equality and the self-reliance of our state.
Here is why:
Utah and North Dakota were admitted into the Union at nearly the same time. The terms of each state's admission, their enabling acts, are virtually identical regarding the federal government's promise to "extinguish its title" to the public lands within their borders.
Yet today, the federal government controls only 3 percent of North Dakota, but more than 65 percent of Utah. Both states have abundant natural resources, but only North Dakota is able to manage the multiple-use and natural resources of its lands.
On funding for public schools, Utah is $4.4 billion behind North Dakota, and $2.2 billion below the national average. North Dakota boasts an average class size of 11.6 pupils per teacher, while Utah is 23.7 to 1, perpetually last in the nation.
Such a serious issue requires serious analysis, not mere sound bites.
A recent opinion in this paper erroneously alleged that "[t]he founding fathers of Utah gave up any claim to federal lands as a condition for becoming a state."
That opinion recited only the first half of the key provision from Utah's Enabling Act (Utah Constitution Art. III, Sec 2): "the people inhabiting this State do affirm and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries hereof ... ." The opinion curiously omitted the rest of the sentence: "that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States."
The U.S. Supreme Court case cited in the constitutional note to HB148 affirms that this language was inserted in the enabling acts of new states so there would be no "interference with the primary disposal of the soil" by the federal government nor any interference "with any regulation ... for securing title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers."
The court's language mirrors the 1833 overview by President Andrew Jackson concerning the federal government's promise to timely transfer title to the public lands. Jackson further stated "that the price of these lands shall be reduced and graduated, and that after they have been offered for a certain number of years the refuse remaining unsold shall be abandoned to the States and the machinery of our land system entirely withdrawn."
If Utah's founding fathers "gave up any claim to federal lands as a condition of statehood" as alleged, why then did the Utah Legislature, by formal memorial in 1915, "view with alarm and apprehension the national tendency toward the curtailment of the former liberal policies in handling the public domain and disposing of the natural resources," call for "the speedy return to the former liberal national attitude toward the public domain, and ... call attention to the fact that the burden of State and local government in Utah is borne by taxation of less than one-third of the lands of the State," and "earnestly urge a policy that will afford an opportunity to settle our lands and make use of our resources on terms of equality with the older states, to the benefit and upbuilding of the State and to the strength of the nation"?
Utah's schoolchildren, wage earners, and businesses deserve the same benefit "on terms of equality with the older states" of the federal government finally honoring the same promise it made, and kept, with North Dakota, and all states east of Colorado, to "extinguish title" to the public lands in a timely fashion.
Ken Ivory represents District 47 in the Utah House of Representatives and is the sponsor of HB148.