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Selling Off the Public Estate


So the Bush White House, with Tom Tancredo oddly in tow, wants to sell public land throughout the west to help rural schools, primarily schools in California, Oregon, and Washington. It seems these schools got used to a token payment from timber sales on public land. Some cynics might call it payola; nevertheless, the timber has run out, even though the pass-back expectations of the locals have not.

Thus, we arrive at the present national crisis.

Here in Colorado the land on the immediate auction block runs to about 21,000 acres, much of it important recreation land to those unworthy louts who live and work in our cities and hunger for a modest retreat from the work-a-day world. Let them buy their own land seems to be the prevailing logic from the White House.

There are other help options of course. We could look at reducing the future cost of the Administration’s Iraqi adventure, giving that money to schools. In the selling, Iraq was promised to cost only $70 billion and magically lead to flowers sprouting from gun barrels. It is already over $300 billion with no end in sight, and there are no flowers except to bury the mourned dead. But this option has one drawback, the powerful don’t like it. After all it’s their war, and they don’t do the dying.

There is also the option of reversing the Bush tax cuts for those the president has called his base, the Haves and Have Mores. These cuts, in combination with the Iraqi adventure, have led us to the brink of insolvency as the yawning national debt of $8 trillion will increase by over $400 billion this year, with similar deficits as far as the eye can see. But this option borders on killing a gnat with a Bradley Fighting Machine since only $800 million is needed over 5 years for the demands of these rural schools. Based on past handouts, Colorado schools would only get about $12 million of the forest boodle.

Anyway, as the White House has it, the tax cuts are needed to keep the wheels of commerce humming. And you just know that someone will point out that if the Haves and Have Mores don’t get their tax cuts they won’t have the money to buy the public’s land. Where would that leave us?

But since many westerners benefiting from the Bush tax cuts are also jowl deep into the farm subsidy program, this might be an area worth exploring since double dipping can sometimes arouse ire where other kinds of feeding and grunting cannot.

Presently, this give away costs the public about $18 billion annually, most of it going to agribusiness. In Colorado, we ladle out about $300 million annually, with most of it going to fewer than 2000 Have-More farms. In Colorado, alone, we could generate all the money demanded by the entire timber school lobby by cutting the farm giveaways in half for 5 years.

Yet, if we were to pay the demands of just the timber schools in Colorado–they are primarily in the same counties as Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Vail, and Breckenridge–we would need only about $12 million. Mercy, we could make that up standing on our heads. For 5 years, it would mean a cut of less then one percent annually to the state’s agribusiness Have Mores.

But beware. We’d first need the approval of those statesmen and prime movers getting the hand outs. Even the short list underscores the potential problem. It includes former Senator Ben Campbell and Representatives John Salazar and Marilyn Musgrave, not to mention state legislators such as Lou Entz and Jim Isgar. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget Phil Anschutz, Jerry Mcmorris and John Elway in our sampler. Even Aspen, a city not given its due as a hotbed of family farming has pulled in well over $2 million over the past years to the delight of its population of Have Mores.

There’s also the local option. We tell Washington to peddle its schemes somewhere else. We can take care of our local problems without selling off our assets, thank you. All we’d have to do is deny the Colorado Water Conservation Board about 3 percent annually of the $80 million or so it’s been receiving from the oil and mineral severance tax. In five years the problem would be solved, and all of the money could go back to helping CWCB patrons, who just happen to be the same people getting the farm subsidy payments. Oh, what a tangled web we weave!

So, are we really ready to take on this national crisis with some minor tinkering? Or should we just role over knowing that we are bucking the wise reserve of gimlet-eyed Tom Tancreado when he says, “The federal government should sell land that it has no business owning in order to fund more important functions and to return the land to the local tax base.”

Some might question momentarily what land it is he thinks we have no right owning, but no one can deny he speaks with the certainty of the true believer. No tangled web for him.

PHIL DOE, who once worked in the Interior Department, is chair of Citizens Progressive Alliance in Littleton, Colorado. He can be reached at:


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