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Utah Farm Leaders Decry Open-Space Ballot Initiative

Utah Farm Leaders Decry Open-Space Ballot Initiative

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Leaders of Utah's five largest farming organizations are opposing an open-space initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker said the Utah Farm Bureau, Utah Wool Growers Association, Utah Cattlemen's Association, Utah Dairymen's Association and Utah Farmers Union believe Initiative 1 bypasses the state Legislature -- the reason Republican legislative leaders came out against it last week.

"What's going on with this initiative is exactly what's wrong with the referendum process," Parker said. "It doesn't allow for debate; it only allows one group to use as much money as they can to promote their viewpoint."

Initiative 1 would preserve open space, clean water and air, build parks and construct government buildings with a $150 million bond financed by an increase in the sales tax of one-twentieth of a cent.

Utahns for Clean Water, Clean Air & Quality Growth says many farmers support the proposal, which would cost the average Utah family about $14 more a year.

But Monte Weston, president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association, said using state funds to buy land will raise the value of farm land and make it more expensive for young people to go into farming.

"If tax dollars are going to compete against these young farmers and ranchers, it's pretty much unfair competition for them," he said.

Many farmers were in favor of the petition until they read the details of the $150 million bond, particularly a section that allows up to $30 million to be used for buildings, said Clark Willis, past president of the Wool Growers Association.

"The initiative has more platitudes than results planned for the state of Utah," he said. "Until you get into the nitty-gritty, you don't realize this isn't good for agriculture or the state of Utah."

Together, Parker said the five groups represent about 98 percent of farmers and ranchers throughout the state.

But Jon Meikle, a Farm Bureau member and Cache County rancher, said the groups did not speak for him or many other farmers in his area. Although Meikle said the initiative wasn't perfect, it helps preserve open space for future farming.

"The farmers' only option is to sell to the highest bidder, which is the development community," he said. "This gives them a choice. We don't get much production out of asphalt."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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