EDITORIAL: Raw land deal

The federal government owns about 85 percent of the land in Nevada. Transferring much of that acreage to local control or private ownership would do wonders for the state’s economy. A bill currently before the House of Representatives would help do that and more by giving the Silver State its first national monument: the Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument, north of Las Vegas. But an amendment that seeks to deny Nevada the proceeds from federal land sales could derail the proposal.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean and Steve Tetreault, the bill — backed by Nevada’s entire House delegation — would create a 22,650-acre national monument at the northern edge of the Las Vegas Valley, to be managed by the National Park Service. It would also transfer 660 acres to the city of Las Vegas and 645 acres to the city of North Las Vegas for “job creation zones.”

Under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998, federal land in parts of the valley can be auctioned off, with proceeds supporting education, infrastructure and conservation and recreation projects throughout the state.

Mr. Brean and Mr. Tetreault noted that the original Tule Springs bill cleared the way to auction some federal land for development, with proceeds flowing into the Nevada land fund. However, the proposed amendment — surprisingly brought by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose state is also seeking more local control of federal land — would divert auction proceeds into the U.S. Treasury. Rep. Bishop said he has no problem with Nevada keeping the funds, but in his opinion, such an accommodation would be considered an earmark banned under House rules put in place in 2010.

So for the moment, the bill is stalled while Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Rep. Bishop work toward a compromise.

There’s a lot of irony here. The Public Land Management Act has worked for years in support of government. It has allowed officials to buy up sensitive land in Nevada, and to support schools, parks and open space. Although the law has allowed developers to acquire the land needed for many thousands of new homes, environmentalists love the legislation. The money isn’t being refunded directly to local taxpayers (though they could surely put it to better use than anyone in Washington), but taxpayers benefit because governments get a bit of a windfall after decades of collecting no property taxes on the land. Meanwhile, the majority of lawmakers who would vote on the Tule Springs bill are from states where almost every acre is privately owned and on the property tax rolls, generating revenues at the city, county and state levels. And many of those lawmakers have no problem telling Nevada how it can and cannot access the land — and the funds that land generates — within its own borders.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recognizes the amendment is a horrible deal for Nevada, saying, “A bad bill is worse than no bill at all.” We wish he would have expressed as much before shepherding Obamacare through Congress.

Lawmakers should keep their hands off the Public Land Management Act. The bipartisan Tule Springs bill is the result of years of local negotiations. It would protect a site with great historic value and grow the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area while unshackling other federal land for local use. It should get an up-or-down vote on its own — and it should pass — without out-of-state interests getting in the way.

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