As most people know, I have always loved to fly. Being a pilot gives me an interesting perspective. With a bird's eye view of our beautiful state - from our expanding cities along the Wasatch Front to canyon country and our northern forests - my love for Utah runs deep. But these days, from the air, I can also see how fast Utah is changing - and I can see the congestion and pollution that threaten our quality of life. How will we make room for 1 million more people by 2020? The question isn't if we're going to grow, it's how. Now is the time to plan wisely for growth and protect what makes Utah special. This is why I support Initiative 1.
Initiative 1 will raise $150 million in conservation bonds to protect our sources of drinking water, wildlife, farm and ranchlands, parks and trails, open space and cultural and historic landmarks - all for only $14 per year for the average Utah family. It is a conservative measure based on the principal of stewardship: we owe it to future generations to prudently conserve the natural resources that add so much to our quality of life today. And it's not just our quality of life that's at stake; it's our economy. From our redrock canyons to our ski slopes, from the Great Salt Lake to our rivers and streams, Utah's natural heritage is our competitive advantage that attracts tourism and new business to our state.
How can we afford to pass Initiative1? The real question is, how can we afford not to? For instance, my former Senate colleagues in the east tell of spending billions of dollars for water treatment plants in order to obtain potable water - but, by protecting our canyons, farmlands and watersheds today, we can do the same here in Utah for far less. It also makes sense, during these times of low interest rates, to obtain conservation financing at 3-4percent at a time when land prices are escalating at 8-10 percent. In the long run, this timely investment in Utah's future will save taxpayers millions.
Initiative 1 is not about wilderness or our pubic lands - it's about maintaining the quality of life where we live. It honors private property rights, prohibits condemnation, ensures all transactions will be completed on a willing seller basis and guarantees lands will remain on the tax rolls. Initiative 1 funds will be awarded to projects by the Quality Growth Commission, which has an outstanding record managing conservation funds, on a competitive basis - and all finances will be subject to annual audits and legislative review.
I also like Initiative 1's emphasis on local control by involving local governments and civic leaders in the decision making process. While most funding will be available for land and water protection, enhancement programs to improve wildlife habitat, soils, and groundwater management will also be eligible. And in rural communities with different quality growth priorities, projects to build trails, recreational facilities and protect historic landmarks can be funded too. Initiative 1 is about more than just open space.
Initiative 1 has strong bi-partisan support from The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News, KSL TV, both gubernatorial candidates, numerous conservation groups and business and civic leaders statewide. It is a balanced proposal that puts people first - by allowing landowners and local communities to protect what's special to them, without government control, on an entirely voluntary basis.
Finally, when I think of what other states are doing in this area, I have to ask: are we as Utahns any less proud of our natural environment? In recent years conservation bonds have passed in Nevada ($200 million), Colorado ($170 million) and Arizona ($173 million) - while Utah's only state source for this purpose, the LeRay McAllister Fund, has been cut 74 by the Legislature to less than $800,000 today. Our neighboring states recognize how important these investments are to make. It's time we did too.
There's an old saying, "I didn't plan to fail, I just failed to plan." As a pilot, I can literally see this happening from the air. We can invest now by passing Initiative 1, or we can "fail to plan" and become just another western state. For me this is an easy choice. With great foresight, our forefathers carefully laid out our cities and set aside places so we can enjoy the Utah we do today. Now it's our turn to plan - and our turn to give something back. On November 2 I'm voting Yes on Initiative 1. I hope you will too.
Jake Garn is a former US Senator