Governor has made at least one good decision
In a meeting of the mineral lease counties, as reported in this paper last week, it was announced by former Emery County commissioner Randy Johnson that new Governor Olene Walker had decided the state should step up to the plate to investigate the amount of mineral lease payments that are coming to Utah from the federal government.
For years officials in the counties that receive the money from the materials extracted from the soil of their jurisdictions have wondered whether or not the amount they were getting in payments really did equal the percentage of the total paid out by mineral companies.
The questions the counties have should have been answered long ago, but in the past governors have seemed to be reluctant to ask the questions. Walker, however, seems to be different. She has authorized Johnson, who now works for her on land issues, to work with the state auditor and to look into the matter.
But an investigation is only part of the answer.
Should an audit of payments made in approximately the last five years by private companies to the federal government be found to be out of line with the payments that have dribbled down into the counties coffers, that will probably mean some legal hardball will need to be played to get the payments where they should be.
There are certainly a number of stumbling blocks in the way. First is the attitude of some federal officials about doing such a thing. It is a sure thing that Utah is not the only state that suspects something may be wrong, but it may be the first to challenge the situation, which puts the state in the forefront for federal attacks on the issue. Reportedly, some federal representatives have told sources within the state that it might be smart for the counties to ignore the problem because it was just as likely that overpayments could have been made as underpayments. These kinds of comments are nothing new to many locals who have dealt with arrogant federal bureaucrats in various areas of government for years.
Former Governor Mike Leavitt seemed, for the most part, to cave in or shy away from battles with the national government, but it appears Walker is more willing to put up rather than shut up, although the money to pursue the audit and then the possible legal action will probably have to come from the counties financial coffers either directly or from the Constitutional Defense Fund.
Nonetheless, the fact that the new governor is actually interested in what is happening in rural Utah, and how what happens at the national level impacts those who live there, is a good sign. She was known as a consensus builder between the two represented political parties when she was in the legislature years ago.
Maybe she can also help the rural and metropolitan areas of the state come together in a new way that could make things better too.