Government Land Scandal
|October 29, 2002||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Government Land Scandal
Here is a news update from Taxpayers for Common Sense. TCS is the best organization that monitors excessive government spending, corruption and corporate welfare.
GIVING AWAY THE STORE The Bush administration has agreed to a land swap in Utah that would amount to a giveaway of more than $100 million dollars.
The San Rafael Land Exchange now awaiting approval from Congress would transfer 137,000 acres of federal land rich with oil shale and coal, in return for 108,000 acres of state-owned land.
The land exchange is being pushed by the Utah congressional delegation in a bill currently in front of Congress. The land trade is supposed to consolidate federal holdings in the San Rafael Swell area — where the Governor of Utah proposes a national monument be created and which the President is studying — and in return give the state valuable land and minerals.
The state claims more tax revenue for schools as the leading benefit to the land exchange. However, such a one-sided exchange is almost unprecedented and could open up a Pandora’s box as other western states try the same tactic.
Negotiators of the exchange originally claimed the lands on each side of the deal were only worth about $35 million. But the value of federal land alone is worth tens of millions of dollars more than the state land. The mineral rights are potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars more, according to several staff at the Bureau of Land Management, who have complained that the federal government is getting ripped off.
The congressional legislation claims the exchange would yield “approximately equal value” to the state and the feds. Although state officials acknowledge there were serious disagreements on the proposed land exchange, they claim the differences were worked out. However, during the land deal negotiations, federal land values were mysteriously whittled down and the state holdings over-valued. In addition, lucrative mineral resources that would go to the state were low-balled or ignored altogether.
All too often taxpayers get shorted when the federal government gets involved with land deals. Private interests, or sometimes other governments, often benefit from these real estate deals by receiving too much money for their land. These interests also end up paying too little for untouched government property that they can turn a profit on or use for its underdeveloped resources.
Public lands constitute a large percentage of the western United States and often surround or break up parcels of private land. Therefore, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) frequently swap public and private holdings in an effort to even out borders and protect important natural resource values. However, the process doesn’t always work well.
The Utah land deal is only the latest in a string of land exchange deals that have taken taxpayers for a ride. A General Accounting Office (GAO) report released in June 2000 concluded that the BLM and Forest Service’s land exchange programs have shortchanged federal taxpayers by millions of dollars, usually by undervaluing public land and overvaluing private land. The report concluded that because the program is rife with problems and abuses Congress should consider discontinuing the land exchange program.
San Rafael Land Exchange is the poster child for waste. Congress should prohibit land exchanges between the federal government and private landowners unless the process is reviewed and the public is allowed to access these appraisals. Before moving forward with more land exchanges, federal agencies should investigate the appraisal processes, and permit full public access to information on land exchanges. As the old saying goes, “Light is the best disinfectant.”
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
Actually, the saying is “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” but the point made is the same. Assessment is a science, and assessed site values are not something that should be subject to change or manipulated by deal-makers. Tell your opinions to The Progress Report!