Sunday, May 24, 2015

Congress Threatens Ongoing Government Land Grab

My alternative title to this Washington Post article: Interior secretary: Hill funding divide could threaten national parks
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been used for 50 years to acquire land deemed to have special historical or environmental significance. Although the fund is popular with lawmakers from both political parties, legislation needed to keep the program alive appears to have stalled.

The law that created the program is set to expire in September, putting at risk a primary source of revenue for the nation’s largest preserves as well as state parks and community playgrounds and ballfields. The money — capped at $900 million annually but substantially smaller in most years — comes not from tax revenue but from royalties paid by oil and gas companies for drilling rights in federal waters offshore.

“Absolutely, there’s a risk that this could go away,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in an interview. Jewell said that although the program has traditionally drawn heavy bipartisan support — the law that created the fund in 1964 had only one dissenting vote — a bill that would reauthorize the fund faces significant opposition from lawmakers who either are ideologically opposed to federal land acquisition or have other ideas for using the money.

“Anything that looks like a chunk of money that you can use for your other projects, some will want to go for it,” she said.
In other words "Keep your hands off Our money."
Resistance to renewing the program comes from Republican lawmakers who argue that the federal government should get out of the land-acquisition business. Some senior Republicans have called for selling much of the federal government’s holdings to states or private entities. Others, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), say that the LWCF should be restructured as a maintenance fund to pay for repairs to parks.

“I strongly believe that conservation in the 21st century must include taking care of what we already have — what we chose to conserve first — instead of simply pretending that ‘more is always better,’ ” Murkowski said at an April Senate hearing.
At what point will the Federal government have enough land? It already owns a majority of the land in several western states.

Let's consider a minute the consequence of the feds buying a parcel and taking out of private hands for "protection". First, government spends the money on staff time to acquire to property (and trust me when I say that it will suck up way more time and effort than you can imagine) Then, suddenly, the parcel is no longer paying property taxes to the state and local governments. Any economic activity on the parcel stops, and to the extent that the government has to maintain or protect that property, it takes on a permanent cost. Will that cost come out to the funds used to acquire the property? I doubt it. It will just have to come from the general fund, money which on the margin due to the deficit, has to be payed for with borrowed money.

Out west, I would be in favor of large tracts of federal land being slowly sold off to private interests (if you do it too fast, you might depress land prices too much). More land in private hands would mean more state and local taxes, more jobs and more economic production.

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