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10/7/2012 6:00:00 AM
Prop 120 challenges feds over public lands
Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

The Arizona Legislature is challenging the authority of the U.S. government over public land, but opposition groups are calling Proposition 120 an unconstitutional land grab.

The Legislature placed Proposition 120 on the ballot. If approved, it would amend the state constitution and take control of all federal government land that is not part of an Indian reservation, a military base or was purchased directly from the state of Arizona with the consent of the Legislature. According to the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, which opposes the proposition, there are approximately 25 million acres of land under federal control in Arizona.

Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake, a supporter of the proposition, was not available for comment, but did submit a statement of support for the Arizona Secretary of State's publicity pamphlet.

In her statement, Allen said that the federal government is meddling in the state's economy with regulations that prevent Arizona from using its natural resources to their full potential and prevent the creation of jobs, reducing the amount of money the state has to fund education and other programs. She also claims that the federal government has mismanaged federal forestland in the state.

"Arizona is a sovereign state, and we have a right to control the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife, and other natural resources within our boundaries," she states.

The author of the resolution that became Prop 120, Rep. Chester Crandell, was not available for comment.

In his statement of support submitted to the Secretary of State's Office, Crandell said "(T)his proposition will provide Arizona with the same authority over its own natural resources enjoyed by other states. It will grant the state the ability to more effectively protect and harness the economic potential stored in the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state."

Supporters of the proposition point to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that all powers not reserved for the federal government by the Constitution belong to the states or the American people unless the Constitution specifically prohibits states from having that power. According to Prop 120 supporters, those include regulatory powers over land, air and water within state boundaries.

They also claim that the federal government reneged on its promise when Arizona became a state in 1912 to sell off federal land within the state's boundaries and that it never paid the state for land that several national parks and monuments sit on. Supporters say that because the federal government failed to give the land back to the state, Arizona and several other western states do not have the same control over land within their boundaries that states east of the Mississippi River do.

Supporters of the proposition include the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation and the Arizona Cattlemen's Association.

Opponents of the proposition claim that the Legislature wants to grab control of the land from the federal government and sell it. They also say that the proposition is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and Arizona's statehood agreement with the federal government.

According to Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, opponents are referring to the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. The clause states that federal law trumps state laws in nearly every case.

"Prop 120 is almost certainly unconstitutional. States do not have the right unilaterally to declare that federal law does not apply to them. The Constitution provides that federal law is 'the supreme law of the land ... anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding,'" Paul Bender, a professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of law, wrote in an email to the Miner.

"The state is not equipped to take care of these lands," said Grand Canyon Trust member Sandy Bahr. "We think it's a bad idea, especially with the track record that the Legislature has with state parks."

Bahr pointed to the budget cuts and fund sweeps the Legislature started in 2008 that resulted in the deference of maintenance, shortened visiting hours and the closure of several state parks.

Other opponents, such as the Sky Island Alliance Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, say that none of Arizona's statehood documents detail an agreement where the federal government would turn over control of the land it owns in the state.

Opponents, such as the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, also claim that if the state took over control of the land, it could have a negative effect on the state's economy by eliminating thousands of federal jobs and cutting off billions of dollars in federal funds used to manage the land.

The Public Land Foundation also pointed out that the takeover would affect counties. Arizona counties get millions of dollars from the federal government each year in lieu of property taxes on federal land.

The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, another opponent, said in its statement to the secretary of state's office that the land grab would have a negative effect not only on the environment, but also on the health of some Arizona residents. Several federal regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, are designed to protect people from the health effects of pollution by limiting the amount of pollutants businesses can release into the air or water.

Opponents say that if Prop 120 is approved the Legislature could attempt to nullify federal environmental regulations by saying that only it has the authority to control what happens to the land, water, air and other resources in the state's boundaries.

Opponents include: the Wilderness Society, the Tucson Audubon Society, Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, the Valley Forward Association, North Country Conservancy of Cave Creek, Arizona League of Conservation Voters Committee for the Environment and the Sonoran Institute.

"This is a part of our national legacy," Bahr said.

Re/Max - cdavidcooley (rentals/sales)
Related Stories:
• Propositions limit lawsuits, change arcane state rules
• Arizona opinion divided on property tax measure
• Good for business, bad for homeowners?
• Prop 121 aimed at 'extremists,' but would it limit voter choices instead?

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa

@allen tobin
Actually the federal government pays counties and cities something called "Payment In-Lieu of Taxes" in exchange for property tax on federal lands in their jurisdiction.
If the state were to take over all of the federal lands within its borders, the cities and counties would no longer get that payment.

Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Article comment by: Patrick Henry

Amazing are the comments claiming the proposed legislation concerning lands belonging to the state to be "unconstitutional" yet not one of them explains how. Then there is the comment, in the article, from a law professor concerrning the Supremacy Clause while conveniently leaving out a most important phrase of that part of the clause in question. I imagine his salary is dependent on federal funds. The states created the federal government, not the other way around. Critical is what the states were told the Constitution meant before they ratified it. James Madison, often referred to as the "Father of the Constitution" said the following about the Supremacy Clause in Federalist #45, "the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numberous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce... The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all objects, which in the ordinary course of affairs , concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the state." Only certain properties are allowed to be owned by the fedgov according to our Constitution. Forests, water and lands are not included. Citizens ignorant of their own rights, and those who are shills for the government, cannot long retain them.

Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012
Article comment by: doing research

prop 120 is nothing more than an idiot test. only an idiot would selectivly read the constitution to think this would work, and only an idiot would fail to research something as basic as the numerous laws governing federal lands.

it's amazing that this state rep doesn't have staff with enough basic education to determine and tell him "this is a stupid idea."

beyond being unconstitutional, your taxes would go up if this is passed. why? can the state afford to manage 73 million acres of land? considering that arizona collects more federal tax money than it pays in, it probably means that all these public lands you want to sell off are being managed for less than what they're worth to you.

and you give the az state government ownership of the air in your lungs and rain water on your land.

idiot test.

Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012
Article comment by: larry mondello

let's see, sylvia allen thinks the earth is 6000 years old, and she thinks, if that is possible, that the state legislature's idea of management is selling off the state capitol ( but according to the one party dictatorship, that is not a budget gimmick). clearly this nonsense is unconstitutional and will never happen. it's promoted by ranching interests (the very, very few), the mining interests, and the real estate industry, who ruined the state economy with their selfishness. vote no, although yes is meaningless anyway.

Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012
Article comment by: joe schmo

insanity. not only is prop 120 unconstitutional, and a lawsuit waiting to happen, it is a really dumb idea. what makes anyone think that the state of arizona aka the state of confusion would be any better at running our national parks and recreational areas than the feds? arizona can't even properly fund our state parks to keep all of them up and running. do we really want the geniuses down in phoenix running the tourism operations at the grand canyon?

vote no on 120.

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: John Jay

The Civil war is over. The Confederates lost. Tell Sylvia. What part of nonsensical unconstitutional does she not understand? This Proposition is complete and utter nonsense.

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: Anon Anon

If the Sierra club is opposed, then I am all for it!

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: Good First Senseless Action That Will Cause

If passed, the legal challenges will certainly help our state budget, won't it?

This wacko governor and these wacko legislators (including Goodale) keep imposing their poorly thought out laws.

Then you have enough wackos that push these ideas in the legislature. The legislators either are too afraid to vote it up or down so they tell those advocates to push it in a proposition.

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: mr. parker

Looking for work? Can't find a job? This story explains why. The so called environmental groups are responsible for more lost jobs than for any other reason including automation.

The list of organizations in this article started out with reasonable conservation goals, but like Greenpeace, morphed into radical environmental left wing groups.

As President Romney stated in the debate, we need reasonable regulations but we also need to develop our natural resources. This country needs jobs and we need to get off this course of self destructive behavior. Like the waste of money in Texas, stopping a highway construction project, because some "rare" species of spider was found.

On Oct. 11, the Sierra Club is holding a meeting in Tucson at the SEIU building regarding this issue and obviously collecting more cash for President Stumbles and Richard Carbuncle.

Why don't these hypocrites cry out about the vandalism and destruction of the formerly pristine environment along the border. I guess that doesn't bother them as much as an American citizen being able to obtain a family supporting job.

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: allen tobin

If the feds take over all that land, then we lose all the taxes that it brings in right?

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