New Budget, Old Gimmicks

February 6, 2007
06:31 PM
In its FY08 budget request, the Bush Administration again is proposing a big sell-off of public lands as part of its proposal for the Forest Service and the Interior Department. It is essentially recycling its same (failed) attempt of last year to sell off big chunks of public property.
Specifically, the Administration is seeking to sell hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest land in order to raise $800 million in revenues.  The money would be used to partially fund a program that supports states and counties with revenue from National Forests.  Half of the proceeds would be used for a rapid phase-out of the county payments program, and half for land acquisition, habitat improvement and administrative costs.
Meanwhile, at the Bureau of Land Management, the plan is to auction off more than $350 million worth of public lands over the next decade, with the majority of the proceeds intended to be used for deficit reduction and costs associated with these sales.  (In other words, to offset the effects of tax giveaways for the wealthy.)  Here is Chairman Bingaman’s take on all this:
“The Administration’s latest proposal to sell-off public lands is as much of a non-starter as its first one.  It sends two troubling messages: First, that the Administration will continue to look for new excuses and justifications for selling off public lands, in clear disregard for the desires and interests of the many users of these lands, including recreational users such as hunters, campers and anglers.  Second, that the Administration supports a rapid phase-out and termination of the County Payments program.  We’re making progress toward a solution for the County Payments program, but this new budget proposal remains an irrelevant solution at best, and a divisive distraction at worst.
“In my view, selling public lands to pay down the deficit would be a short-sighted, ill-advised and irresponsible shift in Federal land management policy.  The Forest Service and BLM, through their normal planning process, already have authority to dispose of unneeded lands through sale or exchange.  I have supported targeted land transfers to local communities, and land exchanges to improve how we manage public lands. The President’s plan would turn this existing process upside down, just to make the budget numbers look better.”