State of Monopoly
A dating website last week briefly bid for naming rights to Salt Lake City's Sugar House neighborhood. The city was offered $1.35 million to call it SugarDaddie.com for 10 years. The offer was roundly mocked and quickly withdrawn.
But one wonders how much Parker Bros. might pay the state of Utah to rename itself the state of Monopoly. Seeing as how the buying and selling of land seems to be the primary interest of many of our state lawmakers, it might just fit.
First, there's the expensive pipe dream, the idea that the U.S. government should cede some 30 million acres of federal land within the boundaries of the state. A bill passed in the last session of the Legislature demanded such an action. This year at least a pair of measures would hasten that process. Even though legal experts convincingly contend that it is a constitutional nonstarter. And even though there is reason to worry that, if it did happen, it would lead to an Oklahoma-style land rush that would mean a lot of short-term private profit, at great long-term cost to the land and the people.
The idea, based on a very selective reading of the 1894 Enabling Act that granted Utah statehood, is that all of the land then in federal hands was supposed to be sold off, with a 5 percent cut to the state. Because that didn't happen, and because most states carved out of land east of the Rockies have very little federal land remaining in them, the argument is that Utah and neighboring states have been unfairly left with large portions of territory that is neither developed nor taxed for the benefit of public education or other basic services.
What those who favor this land grab won't see is that, around the turn of the 20th century, American sensibilities changed. We stopped killing Indians. We gave women the right to vote. And we, under the wise leadership of Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt, came up with what's been called "America's best idea," the preservation of large, and beautiful, expanses of our common heritage forever more.
Then there's the other bad idea, a smaller land rush that might actually come to pass. That's tearing down the state prison in Draper, building a new one at a cost of half a billion dollars plus, and selling the current site to a handful of salivating real estate developers.
Recent news that Senate President Wayne Niederhauser is among the property owners who might indirectly benefit from such a scheme was troubling, but not surprising, given the disproportionate number of developers and brokers who populate our Legislature.
It is time to stop treating Utah as a board game, and remember that it is our beautiful home.