Center for Private Property
Utah is blessed with some of the most amazing landscapes in the country. From the curious rock waves of Zion’s slot canyons to the Salt Flats in the west desert, tourists from around the world want to visit this state. Utah is also a bustling hub of energy and resource development, providing valuable jobs and affordable energy. Balancing these usually competing interests has been a difficult challenge, and not just since environmental activist Tim DeChristopher hijacked an oil and gas auction in December 2008.
IACX Energy, a Dallas-based helium gas producer, decided to avoid the possibility of litigation or activist-inspired regulatory compulsion by going directly to their would-be adversary and working together to craft a “win-win” agreement that augments drilling in a proposed wilderness area. By drilling horizontally to the intended underground helium dome instead of vertically, IACX gets its gas and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance protects valuable wilderness. “Let’s face it—when you’re on federal land, you have many stakeholders,” IACX president Scott Sears told KUER. ”And I think the worst thing you could do is just barge in like a bulldog and say, ‘This is mine and I’m gonna do whatever I want and to heck with the rest of you.’”
“Taxation is theft!”
While true, shifting the debate over taxation to its logical conclusion at the outset causes many people to simply ask: “Then how should government services be funded?”
Much of the debate over this question can only be resolved by determining which services the government should actually be providing. What, in other words, is the proper role of government?
Let’s address Utah specifically, where (for example) the state is constitutionally obligated to provide educational services to the children of its citizens—a requirement that deviates from government’s proper role. How should these schools be funded?
On October 1, 2013, the supposed “shutdown” (better referenced as a “slimdown”) began. While competing political factions bicker over who’s to blame, and while the public demands resolution, an interesting conversational point has surfaced. If non-essential government employees have been furloughed, it raises the question: why do non-essential government employees even exist?
Americans are well versed in the long history of rampant government waste. Lucrative bureaucrat salaries, revolving doors, inertia, and annually inflated budgets have become second nature. Despite all the attempts to introduce reform, government continues to hire more and more people.
In light of this, how can the “slimdown” be used to our advantage? There are a few areas of policy—where Utah has battled the federal government—that recent events suggest can and should be devolved to the state level.
A recent article tells of a Woods Cross man who was seeking permission to enter into peaceful commercial transactions. He intended to sell firearms out of his home—an intent to which many of his neighbors strongly objected. This legal activity apparently must have the blessing of the local planning commission according to local ordinance, and a permit must be issued.
Libertas Institute is currently soliciting submissions for our second annual essay competition. The theme of this year’s contest: ”The Proper Role of Local Government.” Do the activities of a local planning commission fall within the scope of the proper role of local government?
The above-cited article describes the man’s neighborhood as one “where streets are lined with single-family homes, bicycles litter lawns, and kids spend summer days beating the heat in their swimsuits..” The article mentions that some of the residents of the neighborhood are upset that their neighbor wants to sell firearms from his home. One such neighbor, Ria Vanlet, is quoted as saying, “If you’d sell vitamins, maybe. But firearms, it’s a different story.” Among her reasons for opposing the man’s right to sell firearms from his home was that she is concerned about safety.
Article 1 Section 6 of Utah’s constitution states, “The individual right of the people to keep and bear arms for security and defense of self, family, others, property, or the state, as well as for other lawful purposes shall not be infringed.”
Today, Governor Herbert is hanging his hat, not on that particular sentence, not on the fundamental principle of liberty, not on the inherent right of the individual to bear arms, but on the second part of that clause which says, “but nothing herein shall prevent the Legislature from defining the lawful use of arms.”
Governor Herbert has chosen to veto House Bill 76, which would allow law-abiding Utahns to conceal carry an unloaded firearm without needing a permission slip (conceal carry permit). The bill passed through both the House and Senate by over a 2/3 vote.
Earlier this week, an anti-discrimination bill was shot down by a House committee. Sponsored by Representative Wiley (a Democrat), HB132 would have enacted legal protections against discrimination in employment for individuals because of their height or weight (as well as the “impression,” and not actual measurement, of that person’s height or weight).
Another anti-discrimination bill had a different outcome in a committee meeting yesterday. SB262, sponsored by Senator Urquhart (a Republican), aims to criminalize discrimination in employment and housing against individuals because of their “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” The bill passed 4-3 after public comment which featured a number of weak arguments advanced by the opposition.
None of the opposition addressed the fundamental violation of property rights as it relates to anti-discrimination law, instead focusing on compliance costs, awkwardness of allowing boys whose “gender identity” is female to share a bathroom with girls, fear of providing legal support for introducing same-sex marriage in Utah, and other more superficial reasons. While these and other concerns shared are valid, they were not effective. More importantly, they did not address the heart of the issue—the reason why anti-discrimination law is so repugnant to liberty and limited government.
Last night, the Highland, Utah city council considered passage of an ordinance which would nullify federal and local gun control laws. “As elected leaders,” said the sponsor, councilman Tom Butler, in his opening remarks, “we can either stand with the free citizens of Highland and protect their God given rights to self preservation, self defense and all other rights as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign or domestic, or we will be abdicating our duty, our responsibility and yes our oath—to ourselves, to God and to the people whom we represent.” Struggling to contain his emotion, Butler called for support from his fellow council members: “God help us to stand up for the Constitution.”
The council voted against the ordinance 3-2. Its opponents expressed support for the right to keep and bear arms, saying that despite their agreement with the ideas contained within the ordinance, they did not believe the city had the authority to push back against federal law.
Utah is one of several Western states actively fighting the federal government over its unconstitutional land hoarding policies. HB148, signed by Governor Herbert after 2012′s general legislation session, gave fuel to this decades-long fire and once again lit the match, initiating legal proceedings against the federal government to reclaim ownership of land within Utah which Washington does not rightfully own and regulate. (We supported a “yea” vote in our legislative index.)
A few months later, the Outdoor Industry Association came out in strong opposition to this effort, with the President and CEO stating that the industry is often “surprised and frustrated” by Utah’s “unfavorable positions on public lands policy.” In response to the desire by Utah elected officials to unlock land within the state from the grip of D.C., Outdoor Industry Association President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said:
Of greatest concern is the governor’s lawsuit challenging the federal government over jurisdiction of the federal public lands and some road claims within national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation’s recreation infrastructure.
This was not empty rhetoric: as the OIA determines where it will hold its large conventions, the biggest is in Utah, which brings 47,000 visitors and $40 million to the state each year.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins with this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It goes on to affirm that the only proper role of government is to protect these “unalienable” rights. It is important to understand the significance of these pronouncements. Note that government does not grant these rights. Government is not the originator of these rights. These rights are innate. They are natural. They are God-given. They are unalienable. Even those that do not believe in God must recognize that men have these rights naturally and that they are not granted to them by other men. On what premise would one argue that some men are superior to others and should have the power to grant or take away their rights?