Utah congressmen want to tax federal government for its enormous landholdings
SALT LAKE CITY – Two congressional Republicans who blame the federal government for meager education funding in the West said Monday they want to tax the federal government’s vast landholdings across 12 Western states.
U.S. Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop said the government has failed to keep its promise to sell the land it now manages, and that it owes states a one-time payment amounting to 5 percent of the land’s value and should pay yearly property taxes.
The Utah congressmen said they plan to introduce legislation in January.
Under their proposal, the one-time payment in Utah would net $836 million, and across all 12 states would amount to billions. The annual property taxes would total $116 million in Utah and up to $782 million in each of the other 11 states.
Besides Utah, the other states covered by the lawmakers’ proposal are Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Alaska, Arizona and New Mexico.
“We feel strongly the federal government owes us,” Bishop said.
Nine Western states have passed resolutions calling for the government to start paying taxes on the land it owns, but Cannon said he believes this is the first congressional attempt.
The federal government owns nearly two-thirds of all land in Utah, and about half of all the land in the 12 Western states. In the rest of the country, the government owns an average of 4 percent of each state’s land.
The representatives argued that a decline in per-pupil spending is directly related to untaxed federal lands.
“There’s a limit to how much we can do to fund schools and education with taxing on families in the state of Utah,” Cannon said.
Cannon and Bishop are calling for a tax on the land the government owns at a rate similar to that paid by farmers and ranchers.
Critics of the proposal said it fails to account for how much Utah and other states benefit from the federal government’s ownership.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the federal government offers Utah a percentage of its revenue from grazing, and oil and gas drilling. He said there were also advantages to the land itself.
“Western states benefit enormously by the fact that we have all this open space that is paid for by all citizens,” he said.