Utah’s Public Lands Legislation 2014

The topic of Public Lands in the state has been a hot topic in recent years and continues even more so this year. Chad Booth sits down with Mark Ward from the Utah Association of Counties to discuss several pieces of legislation that came out of the legislature for 2014.

The program focused on several piece of legislation that deal with public lands in the state:

  • HB164 which creates the ability for states to create interstate compacts involving the transfer of public lands.
  • HB160 Recognizes the importance of wilderness protection and sets up the process for the state to make wilderness designations.
  • HB133 Creates a mechanism for the state to step in and manage National Parks in the event of another federal shutdown.
  • HB149 Clarifies the jurisdiction and authority of federal enforcement of state and local laws

You can find a complete list of public lands legislation for 2014 at:

http://americanlandscouncil.org/myportfolio/summary-of-ut-2014-transfer-of-public-lands-legislation/

The Unique Importance of County Commissioners

We have been producing The County Seat for almost  3 and a half years now.  That experience has given me the opportunity to work with members of both Commissions and County Councils.  The two forms of government function very differently.  Councils duplicate the functioning of the federal government or the state government with a strict (or at least in theory strict) separation of legislative function and executive function, in other words, those who make the laws do not execute or enforce them.

Commissions are different.  The person you elect as your commissioner serves as both ordinance creator and administrator.  In most settings that would be a dangerous concentration of power, that is not the case here.  the Commission form of government employs unique separations that keep things in Check.  For example many of the people you would find in a governor or presidents cabinet as appointees of the executive are directly elected by the people.  Commissioners do not have any executive or procedural power over the Sheriff, the Clerk, The assessor, the surveyor, the treasurer or, most importantly the auditor.  These people answer to you as a voter instead of the Commission.

The reason I said the auditor is the most important piece of the puzzle is that their job description is to audit the county’s finances and report their findings to the people of the county.  They are truly and independent auditor charged with auditing the rest of the elected officials.  The sheriff is equally important as he is responsible to enforce the law regarding your conduct as a citizen, but also to make sure that the other elected officials do their jobs legally.

This intricate web of independent power makes each of these jobs more important to honest and effective local government, yet often we don’t give the other county jobs a second thought.  If they are not vetted as to their integrity and their capability, then a county government can get out of control and power can be abused.  I urge you to remember that as election time draws near in June and in November.

One last note about Commissions.  It is my experience that commissions get things done quickly.  The consensus to move ahead on a problem only requires three heads in the game, and they are motivated to move to solve problems as they have to live with the legislative consequences for they are the ones who also oversee the road department, sanitation, mental health, economic development, tourism etc.

When you have a council, problems are often tabled for months at a time while they slowly build consensus. My personal thoughts are that in Washington there is great value in that, (the less they accomplish, the less our lives are burdened) but in a county, specifically a rural county where distances are great and populations are small that is not a virtue.  There is value in having a council in counties where there are large divergent populations in a concentrated area, for more voices are heard in the crafting of ordinance (the closer we live together, the more rules we seem to need to get along).  When our day to day safety and welfare are affected the quicker a problem is solved, the better.  I know of at least two council  form counties in Utah who are considering returning to a commission form of government.  Perhaps that is a good conversation to have.

Commissions work very well and can serve the public very effectively and efficiently, but it takes our vigilance and engagement to make it all work ethically.

Just my Thoughts.

Chad Booth.    As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Who is a County Commissioner and What do They Do?

A County Commissioner is a unique position in terms of elected offices within the United States in that their position holds both legislative and executive powers. This doesn’t mean they have authority over other elected officers, but it does give the office important powers for getting things done within the county.

Chad Booth sits down with Stan Summers, Box Elder County Commissioner; Kent Peatross, Duchesne County Commissioner; Bret Millburn, Davis County Commissioner to find out more about the role that Commissioners play in our daily lives.
Ria Rossi Booth takes us on a walk with the Utah County Commission to find out what the, Try a Trail with a Commissioner program is all about.
You can find out dates of the next Try a Trail Event Here: http://www.utahvalley.com/events/details.aspx?ID=3902

Horses on the Range, An impossible impass in today’s climate

This week’s program on wild horses points out how frustrating and difficult many land issues are and can be.  To be sure, everyone involved is struggling to find a good solution.

The BLM is faced with trying to manage a problem that has political mandates and societal pressures placed upon them, without the proper funding to get the job done under current restraints.  The ranchers who spend most of the time on the range trying to maintain the health of the rangelands so they can graze, are asked to reduce their herds to accommodate the horses to a point of non-profitability, or even economic ruin.  Animal lovers are frustrated that the range won’t support the herds and want even more rangeland to protect the icon of the free American west. And taxpayers look at a staggering cost to keep a herd of 100,000 animals on the range and in holding pens around the country.  Estimates of $44,000 per horse per lifetime creates a burden of 4.4 billion dollars by the way I do the math (and the cost may actually be higher per horse out on the range).

For the BLM’s part.  They are aware that the herds are far above sustainable levels for the health of the range.  But they face tremendous pressure when they try to remedy the problem.  When they do a gather, animal rights groups create a media frenzy that makes their efforts look bad because it “scares” the horses, and occasionally there is an equestrian casualty. Then the press, and subsequently constituent sensitive legislators come down on them.

Their adoption program is not working because the horses simply aren’t in demand.  Even with adoption costs as low as $100.00 they aren’t able to move enough of them to even make a dent in the supply. However, once gentled and broken, they do make remarkable horses, particularly at cutting cattle from the herd.  Further, a provision found in the Omnibus Act passed this year, the USDA now bans euthanizing healthy wild horses and burros in its care or from selling wild horses or burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.  Prior to the Omnibus, a 2004 change to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act allowed excess wild horse and burros to be sold by the BLM without restriction, if they were more than ten years old or had been unsuccessfully offered for adoption at least three times. However, during that period from 2004 to 2014 it was the policy of the BLM not to sell or send any wild horses or burros to slaughter.  Their own policy decisions and now the new law leave them with only two options, get additional funding to warehouse the excess range horses,  Make the Ranchers withdraw from the range and allow the horses to expand, or do nothing and destroy the range.  None of the options are good ones.

The ranchers who are the only ones able to make the range produce any economic benefit whatsoever without extensive federal subsidy (alternative energy) and hence the only ones able to invest in range improvements and maintenance, are not only providing forage and water for their herds, but also the native wildlife, as well as the horses.  Their margins are quite slim, and the lines between a good year and a bad year is a very small number.  Yet while they are the ones improving the water and the range, they are the ones being asked to reduce the herds and withdraw from the land.  If they do that, their businesses will collapse and their one asset on the range, the water rights, will be lost.  So their frustration is understandable, as is there suspicion that the federal government will by virtue of the impasse, capture all the water in the west.

In many counties where the wild horses roam (particularly in western Utah and Eastern Nevada), ranching is their biggest industry.  The loss of jobs and tax revenue to provide basic community services would be an economic disaster for these counties.  Finally as taxpayers we see yet another program where the hands of one federal agency tie the hands of the other, and neither one is responsive to the people most affected by the problem (pronounced citizens of rural counties).

The obvious solution is to return to the 2004 change in the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act and have the BLM actually choose to follow the provisions.  That is to maintain the herd at manageable levels, allow the animals to be put up for adoption 3 times, then if they don’t find a home, euthanize them or put them on the market. as a commodity.  The fault really lies with us, because we always want uncle sugar to provide the easy solution, so that we don’t ruffle any feathers, and all the special interests will not play upon our collective guilt.  It is time for us as a nation to stop feeling guilty about everything and realize that we have to be a part of difficult decisions and be realistic about them.

That approach is required on this issue, because with the herds doubling in size every four years, we will destroy the range or bankrupt the BLM (hence us) if we don’t.

My thoughts,  I welcome your reply.

Chad Booth

Wild Horses on Public Lands and the impact on Ranching and Communities

We took the show to Beaver County this week to get an on the ground look at how wild horses impact the range. In Utah the population of wild horses is over the Appropriate Management Level (AML) by 1,300 animals. Nationally the problem of dealing with the number of wild horses increases to 14,000 beyond the AML. The management of wild horses costs the BLM tens of millions of dollars every year but despite the efforts to gather wild horses off the range; the numbers keep increasing.

Chad Booth talks to Beaver County Commissioner, Mark Whitney; Iron County Commissioner, David Miller; and local rancher Mark Winch about the impacts on ranchers and the ultimate impact it has on the economies of rural Utah.

1:09 Chad Booth takes a tour of the range land outside of Milford, Utah to learn where Wild Horses Come from and to see the impacts of too many horses on the range.

7:22 Beginning of Round Table Discussing in-depth the problems associated with the current management of wild horses.

10:18 What are the populations of Wild Horses in Utah and the Western United States?

14:14 What are the different options for management that are on the table?

15:02 What happens if we do nothing?

18:50 What happens if ranchers reduce their livestock numbers?

24:02 What are the solutions?

26:43 What can be done about reducing numbers of Wild Horses?

For more information about wild horses visit the BLM’s website: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram.html

The long and short picture of wildfire management.

My thanks to Terry Wood for filling in on The County Seat again this week.  It is very interesting when I get to sit at home on Sunday Morning and see The County Seat for the first time along with the rest of you.  I end up seeing the show and the topic from a fresher perspective than when I am involved in the show prep.

There were four comments made during the show that caught my attention as the most important comments made during the show.  The first came from Agriculture Commissioner LuAnn Adams: “For each dollar we spend on prevention, we are spending seventeen dollars for suppression.  That points to the problem of poor management of the land.  Most of this problem lies on federally controlled land and remote regulation created as a result of litigation, or crafted in Washington on an agenda that prohibits the proper management of forest lands and range lands.  These restrictions are often imposed on federal officials in state and local offices, who in some cases would otherwise take a different tack on how to manage the lands.   Simply put, the “preservation mentality of no human hands on public land that has infiltrated our federal land agencies is totally destroying millions of the very acres the “naturalists” would have us preserve.  I cannot even calculate the logic in this stance.

The second statement that hit home to me was one made by Brian Cottham, the Utah State Forester when he said:  Fuel is the one thing we can actually control.  He is right about that, we can’t control lightning, nor a careless person, not even the rain, but we have the knowledge and the ability to reduce fuels on the range and in the forests. It seem, we only lack the will to do so.  Ironically, there are a number of private businesses who would be willing to remove a good deal of the fuel load without charge.  In fact, they would be willing to pay us to remove a good portion of the overgrowth.

They are the ranchers who have traditionally grazed the range land and the timber industry who has been driven from the mountain west by redefined resource plans for the forests.  Very little commercial logging remains in Utah, compared to 50 years ago, because most Forest Plans now call for recreation to be the highest and best use of the forest.  As a result of protecting the “old growth” trees for their beauty we have condemned most of them to destruction by beetle kill and fire.  The animals of the range that have taken precedence over the cattlemen for use of the range land have literally been barbequed and lost in much larger numbers over sharing the habitat with responsible cattle grazers who use time controlled grazing.

I can tell there are some reading this post who are ready to fire off a response telling me that a great deal of the forest can’t be logged because the timber is to hard to extract.  Yes that is true, but should we deprive the timber industry or the federal treasury of the chance to fulfill the original mandate of the forest service and profit from their existence and good stewardship?

Third point made was the need to partner with the Federal Government to find better management solutions.  Currently there is a partnership.  When a fire burns, and suppression runs into the millions of dollars, because of a default to “let it burn”, I have had multiple counties tell me that the federal government partners with them by sending them a bill for the suppression.  Partnerships should be consistent with the letter and the intent of the legislation that created the federal agencies… that of seeking sustained yield and multiple use, and to create revenue for the treasury department. and manage land consistent with local planning as much as possible.

The final note is that we must be patient and take the long view.  Brian noted that: “it took 100 years of mismanagement to get where we are today”  we should plan for it to take some 30 years to correct the problem.  So we must be willing to have our elected officials make the necessary financial investments to assist to bring the problem under control, and more important demand of our elected officials the proper oversight to reign in the agencies who have lost sight of the legislative intent spelled out in their creation.  Politics have never tilled into the soil of America very well.  Every time they have tried, the fields lie fallow, and the forest bared.  Let’s work together to become stewards of the land, instead of jailers..

Just my thoughts.

Chad Booth

 

 

Who really pays for our Roads? Who Should?

 road crewOur show this week makes clear the fact that roads have become more expensive as costs for materials have risen, and revenue from gas tax has fallen as cars become more fuel efficient, not to mention the tax breaks for cars which drive the roads, but use alternative fuel.

While not covered extensively in the show, there is also the stark reality that if you defer maintenance on roads, the costs of repair increase exponentially. Putting repair off until you can better afford to bring it back to standard will cost more than if you had maintained it all along.

The debate so far has been centered on how to fund the maintenance of our highways and roads in the state. While I am generally in favor of user based fees, it doesn’t work for public schools and looking forward, it may not work for roads. There are so many things that happen on roads that even non users take advantage of. Say for example what if you don’t drive, but you need an ambulance that involves the roads. So ethically, we all should bear some of the burden for roads, whether we have a car or not.

Beyond ethical, there are practical considerations as well. There comes a point when increased taxes on fuels and registration will start to choke commerce and prosperity. Motor tourists may avoid driving through Utah because of the fuel, High in state fuel costs my make a manufacturer think twice about expanding their operation into Utah. All of us, whether we use roads directly or not would be affected by such scenarios.

The reality of the situation demands that we look at what we really want. If we want the convenience and more importantly the prosperity that comes from having some 43,000 miles of roads available for us to access our cities, counties, recreation destinations, ranches and farms, then there is a price to pay for it. That price is fixed wishing it to cost less will not change the price tag. If we want to spend less, then we need to have less, in other words close roads. We need to remind ourselves that each time we ask government to provide a convenience to us, there is a cost to build it (one time) but there is a cost to maintain it too, and that cost will be with us always.

Our elected county leaders know full well, that it is never popular to take anything away from people who have grown accustomed to it…. even if they knew that it was someday going to happen. Our job as citizens is to be aware and responsible about what we petition our leaders to do for us because ultimately we will have to pay for it with our taxes, and they shouldn’t have to with their jobs.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?
Chad Booth

Keeping up with rising costs and flat revenue : How are local governments funding roads?

With 43,000 miles of public roads in Utah it is hard to imagine how to keep all of the infrastructure maintained. This week on the program Terry Wood discusses the topic of road funding with:
  • Ron Whitehead, public works director Washington County
  • Jim Eardley, Washington County Commissioner
  • Cameron Diehl, Utah League of Cities and Towns

What are the challenges of funding roads in UTAH and what options have been discussed in the past and the present. What will the picture look like in the future?

What does a County Commissioner do?

Commissioners

We are developing an episode that would focus in on the function of the County Commissioner. But first lets have a little fun and find out what different groups of people think a county commissioner does. Both from the perspective of real county commissioners and everyday people.

I have six questions to start us off:

  1. County Commissioners, what do your friends think you do?
  2. What does your family think you do?
  3. What do citizens think you do / citizens what do you think a commissioner does?
  4. What do the County Employees think you do?
  5. What do you think you do?
  6. What do you really do?

These questions were developed off of the fun little graphics you see from time to time on social media about different jobs. I noticed there isn’t one for commissioners.

 

 

Medicaid Expansion in Utah, what does it mean to county health and human services?

Medicaid Expansion has been a hot topic among a number of states. To date, half of the states have opted to expand Medicaid and accept the federal funding. 19 states have rejected it, leaving the federal government to fill in the void some point in the future.  That leaves only 6 states looking at other options, among them, Utah.

While the governor’s office has been trying to find a solution to provide coverage to the 60000 Utahn’s who fall through the cracks in coverage,  many county health professionals and a contingent of legislators want the state to buy in to the expansion program laid out by the Affordable Care Act.

In the meantime, House Speaker Becky Lockhart has come up with an alternative plan that would reject federal funding completely and find the money within the state budget to provide the most basic of coverage to Utah’s very poorest.  The price tag for this option would be about 35 Million to get us to the year 2017, when more options would be available in the ACA.

Since we taped the show, the governor has laid out his plan which would seek a block grant of federal funding and a waiver to set up our own plan.  The heart of the program would take the federal dollars we would have received to expand Medicaid, and instead, use them to help some 100,000 Utahns get private coverage.

Our TV program this week looked at three of the four options (the governor’s had not been presented at the time) to see how each of them would impact county services that deal with behavioral health and substance abuse.

The issues for counties is that they are the last line of defense in providing care for people who can’t afford insurance, Regardless of what happens, counties will not turn people away, currently people aren’t receiving the help they need until they are further along in their illness and in many case particularly in the area of mental health care.  People cannot afford the medications to stabilize their condition, often end up in the custody of the sheriff’s office, or failing to break addiction in a drug rehab program.  Either way the counties end up with a greater burden on their budget and resources.

The need to address the issue, whether for impact on the counties, or simply the impact on the citizens is clear and only a few would  take the stance of Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake”.  We are not that heartless.  The issue really is about the efficiency of the program, the reliability of the federal government to pay their share, and the tax dollars we are contributing via federal taxes, whether we use them or not.  It is in this context that I will address the show. Here are the options:

Do nothing;  If we cannot come to some agreement on expansion and we do nothing, some 60,000 people will be at real jeopardy for health care, and in the arena of mental health, the counties will be seeing a cost burden.  To date they have been receiving federal dollars to assist in treatment via grants.  Those grants are going away.  Loss of that funding was part of the plan to be able to afford the cost of implementing the ACA.

Do it All:  The problem with signing on to the expansion is the reputation and track record of the federal government to keep their promise to pay for things they commit to pay in exchange for our participation in their schemes and programs.  Now before you criticize, just think of the many County Seat episodes we have aired on PILT, enabling acts, cutbacks in federal funding for forest management, then transferring the burden to fight the fires that result from the cutbacks to the state and counties.  This is a real concern, and we should be wary of committing to something that we could be required to later pick up the federal part of the tab.  Even if you dismiss that part of the argument, it is not wise to place stock in an organization that is already 17 trillion in debt and not have collateral or at least an exit plan if they fail.  No bank or business partner would do it, why should the state?

Do it ourselves:  Speaker Lockhart’s plan takes the above in consideration and looks at addressing the issue without federal help.  It is a noble notion. The problem with this plan is not in the concept, but rather in the math.  If the price tag is 35 million, and you need to cover 60,000 individuals, that works out to be 583.33 per person per year.  I don’t know about you, but I am pretty healthy, and I spend that much a year on myself.

The Compromise:  The governor’s plan takes most of the above into account, yet it too has problems.  His plan acknowledges that we are already contributing through federal taxes, and we might as well keep it in state. HIS PLAN  also figures that it would be able to actually cover more people (110,000) rather than the 60 thousand who currently lie vulnerable. It does rely on the private market, which could be a blessing or a curse.  It is usually  good option in the long run to engage the private sector, but if competition is too limited, it can end up having some surprises to it. Limited competition often leads to price fixing, which the insurance industry has a built in exemption to (Robison Pattman Act).  The one question that is not addressed in the governor’s plan is what happens if the federal government decides not to fund it in future years, which is the same problem that is currently sparking the debate.  I favor local control on any issue, so by default, it is better to be steering the ship, as opposed to only being along for the ride.

For any of these plans to work the legislature has to find a common ground and support a plan.  In this analysis, the governor’s plan looks to address the most issues, but he is also challenged with not only getting the legislature on board (with only one week left), but also to get the federal government to give him the waiver.

Those are my notes on the issue, I welcome a discussion of yours.

Chad Booth