Arizona voters could get a chance this year to tell the federal government to butt out of what we do with our air, land, water and wildlife.
Without comment, the state Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to enact a constitutional provision with the state declaring its “sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction” of all that exists within its boundaries. The only exception would be Indian and military reservations and federal buildings.
But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, first added her own embellishments to the measure which already has been approved by the House: It would alter — retroactive to 1912 — a constitutional provision where Arizona, as part of the conditions for becoming a state, agreed to the federal law about what lands are granted to the state.
The measure now needs a final Senate vote, with the last word on HCR 2004 up to voters in November.
Allen, however, said voter approval would not mean Arizona is reneging on the agreement it made with the federal government to gain statehood. And she said changing the terms does not endanger Arizona’s status as a state.
She said the deal included an implicit promise by the federal government that the lands it claimed in 1912 were only temporary.
“Then the federal government would dispose of those lands to pay for the national debt,” she said. But in Arizona and some other Western states, Allen said, that did not happen.
“The federal government’s the one that betrayed us,” she said.
“We are not equal to other states because we do not have control of the lands,” Allen continued. “We never were made a true state.”
Figures from the Arizona Land Department put 42 percent of the state’s 72.9 million acres — about 114,300 square miles — in federal hands. Another 28 percent includes reservations, with 13 percent held in trust by the state and 17 percent in private hands.
Allen said a fight could be avoided if the federal government sells off its property. That would put more into private hands, making the property not only taxable but then allowing the state, through the Legislature, to decide what is the best use of the property.
What that also means, she acknowledged, is uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and all the permits and title to the land needed by Resolution Copper to start mining in southeast Arizona. It also would mean the state gets to give the go-ahead for forestry projects on what is now federal land to promote the timber industry and prevent future wildfires.
None of the Democrats in the Senate spoke out against the measure. But Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, said that silence should not be seen as approval but instead as just a recognition that this is one of so many similar measures.
“I guess we’ve become a little accustomed to these unconstitutional HCRs,” he said. “Maybe it dulls our senses ... because there are just so many of them.”