Feds’ management ability poor

Washington can’t seem to manage much of anything these days. Even before the myriad scandals started to take their toll on the Obama Administration, the government’s inability to manage money and resources was clear to even the most passive observer.

Notable among recent policy failures has been Washington’s inability to find even the smallest reductions in a $3.8 trillion budget — a budget that more than doubled in size in just over 10 years.

This failure led directly to the hated “sequester” which, while not actually cutting year-over-year spending, did slow Washington’s growth somewhat.

By and large, Americans have gone on with their lives giving little thought to the over-hyped sequester. However, in an effort to inflict some pain on state governments, the Obama Administration saw fit to cancel royalty payments to the various Western states earlier this year.

Royalties are the fees paid by companies that engage in certain activities on publicly owned land. A vast majority of this money in New Mexico and around the West is derived from the various extractive industries.

For New Mexico, the loss amounts to $26 million this year.  Sen. Tom Udall and a bi-partisan group of Western senators recently penned a letter to the Obama Administration urging that such cuts not be made again next year.

While I appreciate efforts to stop future cuts by our delegation, this is not a discussion that should even be taking place.

These lands are part of the respective states. They are supposed to be managed by the federal government on behalf of the states, but the funds are rightfully ours. Unfortunately, Washington doesn’t play by the rules.

If Washington did obey its own rules, many of these lands — excluding National Parks and Tribal lands — would have been transferred to the various Western states decades ago. After all, this was the pattern set up at the founding of our nation.

Dating back to 1780, the Continental Congress designed a process by which the national government would “dispose of” lands under its control for the benefit of the nation. That process held true for two centuries, but was not allowed to work when it came to Western states like New Mexico, which remains more than 40 percent federally owned.

Whether federal or state government owns land may appear trivial at first blush, but we already have seen that federal budgetary mismanagement has resulted in the withholding of funds meant to support the activities of New Mexico government. And, of course we have well-documented problems with federal management of lands, including the lack of willingness to extract dead and dying trees, thus creating a “tinderbox” in New Mexico’s mountainous regions that have regularly caught fire in recent years.

Lastly, there is the basic reality that government’s functions are best managed locally. Washington instead enforces “one-size-fits-all” management policies that don’t work well for anyone.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, which promotes limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. Contact him at: pgessing@riograndefoundation.org

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