Gilroy: You’ve also been engaged on issues related to western lands—specifically the large amount of federal ownership of land in western states—which plays into this state self-reliance concept as well. How did you get involved in that?
Ivory: In the 2011 session—when we realized that over $5 billion of our state revenue comes from a federal government that’s broke—that’s when we started to flesh out how serious those numbers were. Something on the order of 40% of our state revenue comes from an unsustainable source in our federal governing partner. We looked at the magnitude of this risk and started to think about how we could broaden our revenue base and get to a point of economic self-reliance.
You’re not going to close a revenue gap in the billions of dollars by tweaking the tax code with minor adjustments; you’d have to more than double the income tax and kill the economy. … On top of the general fiscal gap, in Utah we are $2.6 billion below average in annual per-pupil funding. … The magnitude is tremendous.
Yet, what we know from the U.S. Government Accountability Office is that there’s more recoverable oil in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming than the rest of the world combined. There’s a study from earlier this year by the Institute for Energy Research that there’s $150 trillion in mineral value locked up in the federally controlled lands throughout the West. Right now the forests—which were a renewable resource, with the revenue funding schools, roads and public safety—have been shut down to timber harvesting, and now they’re basically tinder boxes. We’ve got so much dead wood standing in the forests that, in fact, the FBI is even warning our state foresters that terrorists are encouraging wildfires as a form of jihad. The forests are so dense now that the trees can’t defend themselves and fend off natural diseases and pests, so forests throughout the West are largely dead or dying just waiting for any spark to ignite the next catastrophic wildfire.
So we looked at these conditions. And as you pointed out, more than 50% of all land in the western United States is owned and controlled by the federal government. This is in a nation that was founded on the principles of inherent, inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. World-renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a statement in the mid-1980s that “where the socialized ownership of land is concerned, only the U.S.S.R. and China can claim company with the United States.” [...]
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