Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop introduced legislation in September focused on what he calls "the West's absentee landlord – the federal government."
Bishop, House Natural Resources, National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee chairman, introduced what he calls his APPLE (Action Plan for Public Lands & Education) Act in HR 2852, on Sept. 7.
"Many Washington bureaucrats and lawmakers fail to recognize the unique challenges western states face due to the fact that they consist of millions of acres of untaxable federal land," he says.
"Funding education is one of those challenges. More that 50% of the state of Utah consists of lands that produce zero property tax revenue. Utah isn't alone in this. In the West, one out of every two acres is owned by the federal government.
"While educators and administrators do the very best they can with the resources they have available, educational opportunities for our children should not be hurt by the West's absentee landlord – the federal government."
Tax revenue generated by private property is one of the greatest contributors to pubic education funding. However, western states that consist of large portions of federal land find themselves at a "severe disadvantage," Bishop believes, when it comes to generating funding for education.
Schools in the West have some of the highest student-to-teacher ratios and have seen the smallest increases in per pupil spending due to the difficulty they have in generating revenue, he adds, noting that the APPLE Act would help Utah and other public lands states address education funding shortages.
"When western states joined the union the federal government agreed to help offset the lack of educational funding that could otherwise be generated if the public lands were held privately," says Bishop. "The APPLE Act helps ensure that the federal government makes good on their commitments."
Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate (S 1524) authorizing western states to select 5% of Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands to be sold or leased, with the generated revenue dedicated to public education.