As ThinkProgress reported Tuesday, GOP Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) told Reuters that that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state (70 percent of the state is owned by the federal government).
Yesterday, while speaking at a news conference at KUED, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) was asked about Ross’s idea. Herbert at first was hesitant about the idea, saying that it’s “worth exploring.” He later went into a more full-throated defense of privatizing his own state’s land, going as far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better:
REPORTER: Governor, I’d like to get your comment on a comment that was made by a Tea Party caucus member from Florida, Representative Dennis Ross, who said in a conversation about reducting the federal deficit that he’s not an economist but he’s maintained a household. The federal government owns 70 percent of Utah, for example, there are federal buildings, if you need cash, let’s start liquidating. What do you think of the idea of starting to sell Utah land to help pay down the federal deficit?
HERBERT: Well, it’s an idea that’s not new. That’s been talked about for the last generation. If we want to reduce the deficit and balance the budget on a federal level, why don’t we sell some of the federal assets? And of course we have a lot of the private land, excuse me, a lot of federal land that they could liquidate and help balance the budget. I think it’s certainly worth exploring. I don’t think we’re going to sell off our national parks and some of those pristine areas. But there’s a lot of land that could in fact be privatized and help reduce the deficit. So I think it’s got some merit to it.[…]
REPORTER: Is there aconcern about the sort of camel’s nose under the tent kind of argument, that once the federal government has its eye on this piece of land and another then another and before you know it the state doesn’t have any control over what’s happening? Is there a concern about that?
HERBERT: I don’t think so, I don’t think the federal government has any appetite to sell anything they’ve got? They’re more than happy to live with deficits, unfortuantely. I don’t think there’s any appetite to sell anything off. I would argue that we could privatize this public land, develop it commercially, and in many ways protect it better. We’ve got instances around the state where land has been held in private ownership, and protected Indian artifacts, and ancient burial grounds, as well as campaign ground better than when it’s been turned over to the government manage. So I don’t think it’s going to be a big march towards liquidating our public land.
Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ) have introduced Senate Bill 635, which would sell off land in Utah and other western states. Lee estimates that selling off 3.3 million acres of federal land in the West would bring in a billion dollars — which would save, for example, four times less than Senate Democrats’ proposal to end subsidies for Big Oil would in a single year.