Utah lawmakers want to find out just how much Utah’s federally controlled lands are worth and deliver a bill to the U.S. government for the revenue they would generate if privately held.
The Legislative Management Committee is meeting Tuesday to possibly approve issuing a request for bids for a private company to begin a real-time valuation of federal lands in Washington County.
After that pilot project, the goal is to expand the assessment statewide.
“The idea is that the federal government is withholding our lands and it made a promise that as long as it holds those lands, it will hold us harmless from the loss of tax revenue,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.
“We simply want them to treat us fairly,” he said, adding that the first phase of the study will cost about $20,000.
Ivory was the chief sponsor of HB357, which passed in the 2018 legislative session last winter and was co-sponsored by every single member of the House. It was approved unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature and directed the Commission on Federalism to kickstart the valuation process.
Utah lawmakers want to find out the gap between Payment in Lieu of Taxes payments the federal government gives to states and the actual taxable value of the federal land.
This year, the U.S. Department of Interior gave Utah $40.7 million in lieu of taxes, which Ivory says barely comes to over a dollar an acre for Utah’s 33 million acres of federally controlled lands.
“The 20 percent of our land that is taxable generates more property tax revenue in two months than we have received in over 20 years in (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) money,” Ivory said.
The federal payments to local governments are designed to offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and some federal water projects.
Our school funding is last in the nation. Our children should not be the ones paying the price for the federal government withholding our land.
–Rep. Ken Ivory
Since the program was established in 1977, $8.5 billion has been distributed to states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.
Ivory said Utah lawmakers don’t feel the federal government is coming anywhere close to holding the state harmless for its amount of nontaxable federal land.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, co-sponsored a concurrent resolution, HCR19, urging the federal government to pay up and said it needed to stop being a deadbeat. The resolution notes that the payments Utah receives are little more than “pennies” in lieu of taxes.
“It really is exciting,” Ivory said, noting he knew of no measure in his eight years in the Legislature that had such universal support.
“Our school funding is last in the nation. Our children should not be the ones paying the price for the federal government withholding our land,” he said.
Ivory said the state wants to tap into artificial intelligence technology that is used in real-time land appraisals.
“It will allow us to simulate our sovereignty,” he said. “What if the lands were held here and producing income?”
Ivory said the effort has nothing to do with selling the land.
“We want the federal government to pay its fair share.”