What I Expect From a Candidate for State Office
I’ve already covered my requirements of someone running for federal office. In a lot of ways, managing a state can be even more complex than handling federal issues. Many problems tackled by the legislature are often based around narrowly-defined groups of people that cross political and sometimes geographic boundaries. It also requires more discipline since going into massive debt isn’t on the table as an option. Here’s what I expect out of anyone running for state office.
The Constitution matters. Both of them. A lot of people running for state office will talk about how much they love the US Constitution. Rarely, though, do you hear much about the much more voluminous and complex state constitution. It is, in fact, a rather lengthy 24 articles plus a short preamble. This is pretty common for most states, actually. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but it behooves anyone looking to run the state to at least have some basic familiarity with the guiding document of state law. Heck, I’ll give you a free pass on knowing a lot of State Supreme Court decisions as long as you’ll at least listen to the legal counsel you’re provided every now and then.
Safety, schools, and streets. Those are the three main functions you really need to concern yourself with. Once you get those working reasonably well, then maybe you can start looking at pet projects. I’ll break this down:
- The state needs to provide an efficient court system, a prison system focused on rehabilitation, and a highway patrol agency properly staffed to enforce traffic laws on state and federal roads. Too many states have been shortchanging the legal system to the point where legal proceedings take years, quality judges are hard to attract and retain, and state law enforcement agencies suffer massive attrition to better-paying city and county agencies. This is a core function that all too often gets neglected and wastes countless dollars and hours in inefficiency.
- Education is important, important enough that it gets its very own article in the state constitution (Article X, if you were curious). Note, however, that “providing for the establishment of” doesn’t necessarily mean “dictate to”. I’m kind of expecting you to create some loose guidelines, provide a bit of funding equalization to rural districts, and then let local communities figure out the rest.
- Roads are a basic infrastructure. If you want to see what happens when you build awesome roads and then don’t take care of them, California would be happy to show you. Gridlock costs a lot of time and money, much more than what it costs to properly maintain them. As part of making an efficient transportation system, I expect a comprehensive solution. The demand for vehicle miles driven has been growing a lot faster than population and any legislator or governor who thinks that they can win by playing the capacity game is delusional. This requires mass transit, carpooling, enhanced telecommuting capabilities, staggered work schedules, and spreading out where jobs are located. You’re going to have to dig in and work with companies to come up with some of these solutions or find more. If all you’ve got is laying more pavement, you’re out of ideas.
Fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean roller-coaster budgets. Responsible financial planning includes saving for a rainy day. For a family, that often means saving up anywhere from 6 months to a year or more of income in case lean times come. Inevitably, they will. The state, however, is setting aside the equivalent of just over a week of savings. This hardly cushions the blows when lean times come and revenue declines are measured in double-digits. When the good times are here, the money needs to be set aside in a much larger reserve so that we don’t see numbers bouncing all over the place. It takes a lot more discipline to do this than it does to balance income and expenditures.
Buy more with cash. I think it’s a great thing that Utah tries to buy public works projects with cash. That saves us all a lot of money in bond interest and allows the state to only take on debt when absolutely necessary. That said, we can do better. I expect tax revenues to exceed expenditures (at least in the good years) so that we keep government lean and mean and, when needed, replenish that rainy day fund. I’d rather the state collect interest than pay it.
Tax increases are never off the table. Look, I really do appreciate that you don’t want to take more of my hard-earned money than you absolutely need to. I wish Congress were the same way. That said, sometimes stuff gets more expensive. The raw materials needed to build roads has skyrocketed over the last decade thanks to increased construction in India and China. Education costs more as the number of ESL students increases. Those are cold, hard, non-negotiable facts. Instead of playing a budgetary shell game, just tell us the straight scoop and ask for more money to get the job done. Yeah, it stinks, but the alternative (crappy roads or schools) stinks much worse. When costs go down, just do the right thing and give the money back.
Leave cities alone. Far too often, there is legislative interference in what should be a local decision. The soccer stadium in Sandy is a good example of this. So is stepping in when North Salt Lake had some zoning disputes or attempting to amend state law to let a single ski resort be annexed under dubious circumstances. Just give cities the tools they need to do what their residents want them to do and step back. Odds are they’ll do fine on their own and those who don’t like it can vote with their feet. You don’t need to react every time a city does something you don’t care for. (And remember, Article XIV, Section 6 covers your butt if the cities get way in over their heads financially. Neat, eh?)
More or less, I expect someone who has principles to guide them, a light touch in governing, and the wisdom and courage to make tough and sometimes unpopular choices for our own good. That’s not asking too much, is it?