Rural Caucus takes on agriculture, public lands and tax issues

by Chris Larson
Capital West News

AgPAC recognized

SALT LAKE CITY – Sterling Brown, vice president  of Public Policy for the Utah Farm Bureau, recognized the many members  of the AgPAC in the Cowboy Caucus had them introduced to the caucus. Several were in attendance at Rural Caucus Friday morning.

Brown is also the chairman of the Utah based AgPAC, an organization of several rural associations and businesses. He said the AgPAC’s will help its members build relationships with legislators. The members of the AgPAC contribute money and assets to accomplish the goals of agricultural interests in both rural and urban settings. Last year, AgPAC contributed $25,500 to several candidates that were up for election in 2014.

 

Public Lands Initiative

SALT LAKE CITY – Uintah County commissioners Mike McKee and Bill Stringer presented U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative to the Rural Caucus on Friday. McKee said that the Initiative’s goal would be to preserve our “special places” and enhance areas for agriculture and the oil and gas industry.

McKee reported that the Uintah Basin contains 15 billion barrels of conventional oil, 111 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 1.32 trillion barrels of shale oil. He also said that half of the oil sands in the U.S. are found in Utah. McKee was sure to note that the oil and gas industry brought good employment to the area, giving Uintah and Duchesne the highest monthly income in the state. The total value of the oil and gas industry was previously estimated at $123 billion.

According McKee, investors are repelled from the basin because of the unstable and uncertain status of access to land, leaving Utah out millions of dollars.

McKee and Stringer reported that the BLM had removed 60,000 key acres in Uintah County from the Master Lease Plan that contain major oil and gas preserves under the guise of mineral assessment. The BLM forbids action on these lands as a matter of policy while they conduct their consideration. They both report that this was a poor veiled attempt of the BLM to seize the wilderness.

McKee was also quick to note that grazing rights on the hoped for public land would be specifically enumerated in the initiative. Base Animal Unit for Grazing (AUMs) would be established to stop the current falling AUM trend.

Rep Mike Noel, R – Kanab, vocalized his continued distrust in working with environmentalist.

“I don’t care what you what you do with the environmental community. Don’t count on it. If we don’t learn are lesson on that we are crazy… The only solution is to transfer these lands to the state of Utah. Period.”

Noel also claims that the bureaucracies that control 70 percent of Utah’s lands are ultimately in the pocket of these environmental NGOs

SB97: Property Tax Equalization

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, presented his plan to equalize property taxes throughout the state.

Osmond’s plan is to increase the Basic Minimum Rate, the equalized property tax rate established in 1996. The fixed rate has not been adjusted since and has not accounted for inflation and growth since them. He said that the state left $126 million of educational property tax during that time. The increase would begin in 2016. The resolution is generate $75 million to immediately equalize school districts with the charter school guarantee.

This has created what he called the “Robin Hood Effect,” taking form the rich districts and giving to the poor districts. This causes political and financial strife to all.

Based on property taxes, Osmond reported that one half of public school districts are getting less per student than tax funds guaranteed to charter schools get and the districts with the highest tax rate have the lowest revenue per student.

South Sanpete School district generates $1400 per student compared Park City School District $6700 per student. Property values are higher in Park City. But Osmond reported that the Park City experience less of a burden to the citizens. Charter schools, while unable to raise additional funds through property taxes, are guaranteed $1746. 40 percent of all revenues for local schools come from property tax.

Osmond warned that Utah is legally vulnerable to lawsuits from the districts. He cited an example from Arizona where the judiciary ruled in favor of the district and demanded that the state raise $1.6 billion in 5 years.

Rep. Brad King, D–Price, confirmed the fear by citing several court cases he had studied in his career as an educator.

“The courts are very happy to fix this for us… If we don’t address this it will be addressed for us,” King said.

 

 

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