Democrats hold organizing convention
The Emery County Democrat Party Organizing Convention was held in the old courthouse in Castle Dale. Chairman Gary Petty opened the meeting with a pledge of allegiance by Edward Geary and a prayer by Bevan Wilson. Chairman Petty welcomed everyone and thanked all those who have served in elected office. He then introduced Glenn Wright from Summit County to the group. Wright is the Summit County Democrat Party Chairman and the Chairman representing the County Chairmen on the Utah State Democrat Executive Committee. He lives in Park City and came to Emery County representing the Utah Democrat Executive Committee. Wright thanked everyone for being at this meeting and said he was not only going to tell them what was going on with the state party but wanted to hear from the citizens in attendance. He first asked, what can the State Democrat Party do for Emery County? What common issues do we have that we can work on together? The first thing that Wright talked about was, "Why are we Democrats. The Summit County Republican Party Chairman recently stated that we are going to run on Republican values. That's all right. We can run on Democrat values because democratic values are American values.
A member of the audience started out by saying, does anyone remember the UMWA we are locked in a battle with Warren Buffet. I know Warren Buffet is a Democrat but he is not concerned about the working class people. Help us with our fight with our employers. The issues are these. The main thing that Buffet wants to do is to take all of the retirees and tell us goodbye, he says we cannot afford to pay you pensions, healthcare or any of the benefits that you worked 30 years for and were promised. Buffet is patiently waiting for the Patriot Coal Lawsuit to go through to find out if it is OK to file bankruptcy and drop all your retiree benefits. You Mr. Wright noted in your opening remarks, that it is OK by Republicans to do that. It is a good business practice. Cities like Sacramento California are considering filing bankruptcy to get rid of all the retiree problems. The UMWA is putting together a bus load of people to go back to the Mid America Stockholders meeting. They will put on a demonstration there and then travel up to the Berkshire Hathaway Stockholders meeting. This trip is to let the stockholders know that these are not numbers these are people. If the Democrat Party wants Carbon and Emery counties to come back into the party. They need to support the unions here in their battles with corporate America.
Wright asked, What can the state party do specifically to help?
The answer was get some media support and cause a stir about this issue and tell the truth about what is going on. This year they made $550 million compared to $325 million last year and they still want more. They recently got a rate increase from the PSC of which 2 and Â½ percent was for higher employee costs. At the same time they want us workers to take a cut. Wright said I can't promise you anything, but I will take the message back and we will see what we can do.
Gary Petty said, we need support from the State Democrat Party and not the advocating of shutting down power plants and coal mines. That is Carbon and Emery county's livelihood. Ed Geary said, Our current state party leadership is talking out of both sides of their mouth. They are for the working man, but they're against the natural resource based industries that provide the best jobs. Petty said, I was disappointed with the support the state party showed for Christine Watkins. Petty said the state party gave her zero support.
Wright said the state party did not think the Romney effect would be as big as it was. They thought Watkins was going to win. They made a mistake there. It is a priority to get that seat back.
She is now with the Republican Party, said Petty.
Bevin Wilson was concerned about the Democrat State Party continuing to advocate expanding the boundaries of the national parks and monuments in this area. If this happens, what is going to be the detrimental effect on these power plants? It is a big issue and Emery County has been working for decades on a land use designation. Emery County has a plan in place. A land use designation would bring local balance and local representation on any designation and protection on water rights, the development of natural resources, protecting our power plants in the Carbon/Emery County area.
On this side of the mountain, there are some very negative things happening in the state party because of these issues. This is really dividing the Democrats in the state. You're going to see if you don't get better united on some of these key issues you're going to see a division right here in the state of Utah. In my opinion you're going to see a division in the Democrat state party here in Utah, because you've got rural issues the state party has completely ignored. They are not listening to us here in rural Utah. Stronger and stronger environmental regulations are being put upon our industry. These tighter and tighter regulations against natural resources development is not helpful. This is our livelihood. Grazing on public lands is important in the agriculture industry. We do not mind sharing these public lands with all users, however we have got to do a lot better job of coming together. You can't just draw yourselves together up there on the Wasatch front at the state level and ignore rural Utah.
Wright said, I am aware of this. There's no desire on behalf of the state party to do something that you wouldn't be happy with down here in Emery County. Geary said, it would have been good if they had talked to someone here in the County before they proposed the Canyonlands Expansion, which involved thousands and thousands of acres.
Petty said he spoke with Josie Valdez the Utah State Party Vice Chairman about the proposed expansion of the parks and losing the coal mine jobs. She said, expanding the parks would bring in a lot of recreation jobs. Petty pointed out that we would be trading $30 an hour jobs for $12 an hour jobs. Others pointed out that there would be no health care with those jobs and no benefits. The jobs in the tourist industry are not high-paying jobs. Emery County's tax base is supported around 75 percent by the mines and the power plants. Petty said to Wright we appreciate your time and hope you will take our message back.
Geary suggested the current slate of Emery County Democrat party officers be retained. This was seconded by Bevan Wilson. This action was voted on and approved. The newly elected officers for the Emery County Democrat Party are as follows: Gary Petty Chairman, Laurie Pitchforth Vice Chairman, Kim Player Secretary, and FloAnn Wilson Treasurer. Floann Wilson gave a financial report.
Senator David Hinkins was recognized and given time to speak. David indicated that he had just come from the Carbon County Democrat Convention.
Senator Hinkins said, There is never enough money to go around and we have to do the best we can with what we have. Working in the Senate has become an eye-opener. This year I happened to serve with Sen. Jim Dabakis and he is running for the State Party Chair. I was asked to put in a good word for him, even though he sponsored the bill to expand the Canyonlands National Park. I know that this is kind of a sore spot with most of us. I am the chairman of the natural resources appropriations up there and he is really concerned about our rural issues. We have talked about these issues. If they're going to lock some of this land up and don't pay the taxes on it that hurts rural Utah. When you look at a little county, like Grand County where 3 percent of the property is privately owned. The rest is owned by the state or the Federal Government and by the way the state doesn't pay them any money for that land either. It's like the state owned property, we're responsible for doing a lot of things to preserve that land, but we don't get compensated as a county. So we don't have enough money to operate.
The Federal Government is going by assessed valuation. We have sent them $88 million a year. From the revenue collected from our minerals in the state we get back $33 million in taxes. We do not think it's fair. They are supposed to give us back at least 50 percent of the revenue that we collect. That was a gentleman's agreement several years ago. They just withheld $8 million more from the state of Utah and they just withheld $50 million more from the state of Wyoming.
In Wyoming, where they don't have a state income tax all of their royalties come off of the sale of coal and gas. They mine 650,000,000 tons a year. Here we mine 25 million. A severance tax on coal has been talked about, which would really hurt Utah, even though the amount is small. The underground mines would not be able to compete with the surface mines. We are the end-users for Utah coal. In Wyoming, they export 95 percent of their coal. The people that pay for that coal are in Ohio along the Ohio River, where they're burning the coal. In Utah, the ratepayers pay for the coal, and a severance tax is of no benefit to us. If we were exporting our coal to other countries, then it would be feasible to put on a coal severance tax. We have to fight for what is ours. The Canyonlands Expansion, if the government would accept the 1950s, assessment which is $50-$60 an acre and give that to the county it would be a benefit.
The people from Moab came to our committee protesting that they wanted to expand the Canyonlands. They also wanted the legislature to give them money for their care center and the reason they don't have any money for their care center is because they do not have any revenue coming in from the government held lands in their county. The 3 percent of the privately owned property in Grand County is now being taxed at the maximum. If Moab wants to lock up all of that land fine. But pay the tax on it. If we could get the state and the federal government to allow us to take the revenue from the minerals that are on that land to at least pay for what it costs and let someone develop minerals on that land. The land has been assessed at $50-$60 an acre. But the price of that property should be worth at least $2,500 an acre. They should be paying tax on $2,500 an acre. Here they are wanting another 3 million acres to tie up. That is not fair. If they say it is an International Treasure or a Federal Treasure then let them pay the difference. We have been able to balance our budget in Utah this year, and I feel good about that.
We miss Commissioner Wilson being with the Road Commissioners because we have no one, now that's looking out for our interests on this side of the mountain. As a result, our roads are not going to get the attention that they had when Bevan Wilson was on the Road Commission. This year they've taken about $80 million and given it to the Wasatch front. That money is staying in Salt Lake County and Utah County. There is not one rural County on the list this year. I've voted against those bills. There are not enough rural legislators in the Senate or the House.
The other big thing is Monticello. In the 1950s and 60s they had the uranium mill down there. There are 700 to 800 people that have died of cancer or diagnosed with cancer. The Senators and Congressmen in 2008 gave them $250-$300,000 to help those people in Monticello, and the San Juan area to get a stipend to drive to Salt Lake to the Huntsman Cancer Center. That money has been exhausted. I put in a resolution this year to hopefully get those people some money.
In the 1950s and 1960s those people were taking the sand from the mine tailings to build the foundations of their homes and the sandboxes their children played in. These Monticello people did not know at the time the hazards that were in that sand. Now those people are dying of cancer. So we asked the Department of Energy to step forward to at least help them pay for the gas to come to Salt Lake City for treatment.
Senator Hinkins stated, I want you to know that I represent both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the Senate. I get along with the Democrats up there as well, as I get along with the Republicans.
Fifty percent of our budget is spent on education. It used to be about 15 percent for healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid, and $450 million on food stamps and some of that is subsidized by the federal government, eventually it is going to be 35 percent, and if you take 35 percent and 50 percent there's very little left over for anything else, such as transportation and law enforcement. As far as I am concerned I am a citizen of Utah and of Emery County and will try to do all I can for rural Utah. I want you to know that I represent you and am grateful to live in the state of Utah. Former Commissioner Bevan Wilson stood and praised Senator David Hinkins for the good work that he has been doing for Emery County and said, we are fortunate to have him in the Legislature. Petty suggested that everyone read the Emery County Democrat Party Platform and agree with it or make comments.