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Just cry wolf

Published March 10, 2013 8:46 pm

Your cash for the asking
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary — H.L. Mencken

One of those imaginary hobgoblins is being trotted about on Capitol Hill by legislators and a sportsmen's group who are pointing at it and sounding the alarm, which goes something like this: Citizens of Utah, the wolf is at the door. But don't be alarmed. We're going to make sure he stays there. We just need to take $300,000 of your tax money and hand it over to this sportsmen's group. They'll know what to do with it, and you'll all be safe, at least until next year.

This the second year in a row that someone from Big Game Forever, a Utah-based nonprofit hunting advocacy group, has shown up at the Utah Legislature with his hand out, spouting dire, wholly suspect warnings that the federal government is considering reintroducing the gray wolf to the Beehive State.

The group's founder, Don Peay, told the Legislature's natural resources budget committee last week that the money is needed to lobby the feds against such a move. "They want to put Mexican wolves in Utah because the Mexicans don't want them," he told lawmakers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says such claims are overblown.

But Peay's pitch for public money to fight this four-legged hobgoblin doesn't require much more from him than to cry wolf, just as the organization did last year and was promptly handed $300,000 with virtually no questions asked. At an appropriations hearing last month, when someone had the temerity to ask Peay what last year's $300,000 had bought the state, he saw no reason to get specific.

"It's been used to do a very complex, political, legal, grass-roots effort," he said.

That pat on the head must be reassuring to taxpayers, who perhaps were under the impression that their elected representatives are actually doing what they repeatedly tell us they are doing — sweating buckets to scrape together enough tax revenue to keep Utah's public schools at least as underfunded as they were this year.

Well, not quite. Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who asked for this line item gift, apparently believes that the needs of the classroom aren't nearly as pressing as the need to pay a private concern more than a quarter of a million tax dollars to stick its finger into a dike that isn't leaking.