Opinion

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Closing Range

Pigs Have No Shame

Once-grateful LWCF beneficiaries are now behaving like entitled greedheads

As I noted last time, we’ve enjoyed many, many opinion items in Montana media regarding “full funding” for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). I’ve seen at least six so far, with more to come.

Tellingly, two were “grassroots” letters from environmentalists, with both writers being “communications” professionals otherwise. The rest came from paid management of “nonprofits” that clearly would benefit financially (or mission-wise) if the advocated-for changes to LWCF happen: Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy, Montana Land Reliance and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, all having administered land conservation transactions facilitated hugely by millions in federal taxpayer support.

If you want background, I’ve written about LWCF a number of times, most recently in January. What you need to know now is current law authorizes, but does not mandate, spending $900 million each year on buying and building outdoor recreation land and infrastructure. And, over the last 50 years, Congress has chosen to appropriate about half of what it could have — clearly LWCF beneficiary groups would rather every dime had been spent, right?

So, similarly to how the baby-new, previously unknown Montana Outdoor Heritage Project is calling for more state parks funding, specifically “dedicated” funding separate (and of course above) monies appropriated by the Montana Legislature each session, the land trusts want to bypass congressional oversight in favor of entitlement to a perpetual stream of cash.

There are two bills seeking changes to LWCF in the current Congress. One is S-302, made moot when Congress passed the huge omnibus in March that changed LWCF into a permanent program from one with a sunset date.

So, fresh from that victory, LWCF’s recipients immediately focused on a new goal. Today’s hype is all about the second bill: S-1081, lead sponsor Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), with 48 co-sponsors, including Montana’s bipartisan team of Senators Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R). There’s an identical House version too, HR 3195.

S-1081’s meat: Starting in FY 2020, the OCS money “shall be made available for expenditure, without further appropriation or fiscal year limitation […]”

In short, S-1081 passage would allow Congress, more specifically the House Natural Resources Committee (with many members from rural districts having scads of public land already), to shirk its constitutional duty to watch the purse strings. Instead, the $900 million money “shall” be spent, without anyone needing to schmooze Congress anymore! Pretty awesome, eh?

The only exception (if any sane person can call it such): Congress would have 120 days after the president submits the budget to the Hill to have “enacted legislation establishing alternate allocations” of the cash. Otherwise, all funds “shall be allocated by the president.”

I asked a legislator friend to explain what “enacted legislation” means. Basically, if Congress passes legislation or a bill, it’s not “enacted” until the president signs it. Therefore, LWCF distributions would fall under absolute control of the White House, or more realistically, some bureaucrat buried deep inside the executive branch.

If you’re a lobbyist, who would you rather lobby or schmooze for money? The 300 million plus Americans whose cash you want? Four hundred and thirty-five Congresscritters, one president, or a bureaucrat nobody else has heard of?

Given the bill is such a colossal change from five decades of statutory precedent specifying “only when appropriated for those purposes,” perhaps that’s why none of letters I’ve read promoting the bill mention the bill number or any of its hugely significant wording.

Clearly, LWCF has devolved into a shameful, worst-case example of how even the most well-intended government programs, increment by increment, turn into toxic pork. Just six weeks after getting rid of LWCF’s 50-year-old sunset clause in favor of a permanent program, now LWCF “supporters” are just too special to be bothered any more with asking Congress for “other people’s money” that would otherwise pay for other, more important government tasks — say, like maintaining what the federal government already can’t maintain?

I’ve heard it said pigs have no shame. Seems true … once-grateful LWCF beneficiaries are now behaving like entitled greedheads, utterly shameless in their jockeying for a place at a trough they expect everyone else to fill. Oinkety oink!