This last legislative session ended in Utah trying to pick some big fights with the federal government. From seizing federal land to bucking federal gun regulations to suing to stop the health care bill that just passed, our legislature and AG are digging in for a knock-down brawl. A lot of criticism has been leveled at them for the expense of these fights, but I’m starting to wonder if the potential payout isn’t worth it.
As of late last week, the field for governor shaped up as a battle between sorta incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. Herbert hasn’t been at the helm for very long, but I already have a pretty good feel for where he’s heading, and I’m not entirely sure I like it. Like many other Utahns, I’m pretty ticked off about rolling over to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and totally hosing rural ranchers and farmers in Snake Valley. I’m also not very impressed that he’s decided to more-or-less give EnergySolutions the green light to truck in whatever the heck it is they want to from whatever state they want to. It remains to be seen if he can truly pull a rabbit out of hat to balance this year’s budget (I have a feeling he’ll pull it off), but he seems to be a bit too wary of tax increases, even if they end up being necessary.
Mayor Corroon, on the other hand, has proven himself a very capable executive in the largest county in the state. He stood fast on opposing tax increases when they weren’t necessary and proposing raising taxes when it was. I don’t feel like Salt Lake County is rolling in excess and I’m glad we have a mayor who’s willing and able to call those shots, even when it may be politically unpopular. I like taxes as low as possible just like the next guy, but I also realistically understand when things are more expensive and that you will always reach a point at which you can’t cut any more. (This in no way insinuates that there can’t be more belt-tightening at the county level, but the effort required to find more cuts may not be worth the final amount.) I’m also confident that if Corroon was governor, we wouldn’t be hand-wringing about Las Vegas water grabs or depleted uranium.
That’s what I want from a governor, someone who defines quality of life as something greater than tax revenues. I don’t feel like Gov. Herbert has done a good job in that regard, but Mayor Corroon has already proven himself by fighting the soccer stadium handout to millionaire crybaby Dave Checketts (who somehow found the money to later buy the Rams), opposing taxes when they weren’t necessary, supporting them when they are, and generally being a good manager, just what we need in the executive branch. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Mayor Corroon’s bid for higher office.
Utah finds itself in yet another deep budget hole, this time to the tune of nearly $1B. This, of course, sets of the debate of if the Legislature should cut spending, raise taxes, or a bit of both. Sen. Steve Urquhart, who I have tremendous respect for, has called for his colleagues to oppose any new tax increases, focusing instead on finding places to make cuts. His rationale is that the rate of growth in state government expenditures has outpaced population plus inflation. While this sounds like a sound argument, it doesn’t mesh with some stark realities.
The demand for state services is not a function of just population and nowhere is this more obvious than in our transportation budgets. As we continue to live in the burbs and commute to work, vehicle miles driven has actually grown as much as twice as fast as population. The cost of construction materials has also risen dramatically higher than inflation as China and India consume more of the world’s steel and concrete supply. Education has also taken a hit as more ESL students enter our school systems, students that have a significantly higher cost to educate. (Large immigrant populations account for a significant part of New York’s high education spending and drag their results down.) A rigid formula leaves little room to address these kinds of variances.
We should also consider that despite all of the posturing, Utah’s state budget has been fairly stable as a percentage of state GDP. During the last two decades, it has fluctuated from a low of 15.5% to a high of 17.2%. That is an amazing amount of restraint given the large surpluses that we had just a few years ago. Whether this is because of or despite the hand-wringing about state government spending is anyone’s guess, but the caricature of free-spending double-talkers seems better suited to Congresscritters than it does our state government.
While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment against raising taxes unnecessarily, you can’t just sweep that option off of the table wholesale. I hope our state representatives and senators will bear this in mind as they start making tough decisions next month.
I spend a considerable amount of time each election cycle researching candidates to figure out who would best represent me. I can usually find a wealth of information on most candiates, but there are a few who are information black holes. There’s no campaign literature, no website, and no time taken to respond to questions mailed from the major papers. It’s almost like they didn’t really want to run in the first place.
I’m finding that the current lead for US Senate from the Democrats, Sam Granato, has taken frustrating to an entirely brand new level. Despite dozens of YouTube videos and considerable press releases, I couldn’t name even three positions he holds. He hasn’t even bothered to put up a basic website on his domain, having left it parked at GoDaddy for months. The only thing we’re getting is a big pile of empty fluff, meaningless platitudes with no position statements. Worse yet, complaining about the problem only gets a snide remark that you should get behind the horse without knowing what you’re getting into.
C’mon, Sam. Running an “I Like Ike” type of campaign is insulting our intelligence. Take the whole 30 minutes to grab a free copy of WordPress with some cheap hosting and put up some campaign planks. Or nab a free account from Blogger and redirect your domain. Stop acting like you’re entitled to our support because Shurtleff is loony, Bennett is out-of-touch, and nobody else has stepped forward.
“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” While we nod our heads in agreement at this idiom, rarely do we consider just how far-reaching it is. It’s very easy to recognize that a good or service offered for free is anything but. Rarely, however, do we evaluate the intangible cost of laws on our society.
As an example, consider the societal cost of raising or lowering the speed limit on a stretch of highway. If it is lowered, we save lives, but at a cost of additional commute times. If it is raised, commute times drop while highway fatalities increase. You can also find a societal cost in legalizing a behavior. A real hot button locally is liberalization of liquor laws. It seems like an easy thing to say yes to. After all, shouldn’t an adult be able to drink whatever they want whenever they want in whatever quantity they want if they don’t affect others? Our eastern neighbor, Nevada, has taken this approach to alcohol to the extreme. Any kind of alcohol is available in venues from liquor stores to grocery stores to gas stations all day, every day. They subsequently have one of the highest rates of DUI in the nation, soaring auto insurance premiums, and severe issues with alcohol abuse. It’s very difficult to ignore those adverse affects.
Many libertarians will often argue that this societal cost is non-existent. In their mind, individual liberty outweighs any potential negative side effect that may occur. Unfortunately, the irresponsible among us who would abuse liberty often ignore responsibility. This irresponsible behavior often leads to loss of life or liberty for another party. Putting an overemphasis on individual rights over collective rights (or the converse) is what leads to this imbalance of liberty and responsibility. It is incumbent upon each of us to consider the far-reaching consequences of the laws and policies we promote and ask if we are truly prepared to pay the real cost of such laws.
So where do we draw the line? That is up for the people as a whole to decide. A great thing about out nation is that we have the freedom to congregate with like-minded people and make the government of our choosing. If you do not like the particular balance between individual and collective rights struck in your locale, vote with your feet. Just don’t forget that everything has its price.
As Attorney General, I think Mark Shurtleff has done an exemplary job. In fact, the only blunder of his I can see is failing to take action against Free “Capitalist” Rick Koerber based on evidence collected against him by the Department of Commerce. Unfortunately, this experience as a legal eagle hasn’t translated well into running for other elective office. In fact, his actions make him look like a political novice rather than a seasoned vet.
Honestly, Shurtleff’s actions smell a bit too much like pandering. He’s managed to very quickly attach himself to the TEA Party crowd, popping off quotes from Ronald Reagan at every opportunity (the irony being that Reagan greatly increased the national debt, but I digress). He takes every opportunity to slam Sen. Bob Bennett, his incumbent opposition, at every turn even when his slams don’t make a lick of sense. The fervor is not unlike that of a new convert to a cause, but that’s don’t make it any less obnoxious or annoying.
It seems that this is a problem with all of the people vying for the Republican nomination. They’re all talking up how they’re the “real conservative” in the race (whatever that means) and denouncing Bob Bennett for, well, anything he does that isn’t conservative by their incredibly narrow definition. These same people would likely call me a liberal or socialist over a few points of minutiae despite that we likely agree on at least 90% of the issues. That small and loud group seeking to purge heresy from the party is a primary reason why the Republican Party is in as bad a shape as it is.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one wise to how loony this all sounds. I still think Bob Bennett is due for retirement from public office, but we sure can do a lot better than the current crop.
Many states are having all kinds of budgeting issues these days, and Utah is no exception. Despite approving $400M worth of cuts that will soon go into effect, Utah is facing a $450M budget shortfall, a figure that far exceeds the $420M rainy day fund. This disconnect between the savings and shortfall reflects our own poor personal budgeting in which we do not truly prepare for the down times.
Part of the problem is that Utah, like so many states, is happy to spend rather generously during good times. The growth in government spending has outstripped the rate of population growth plus inflation for a number of years. (Granted, we can account for some of this via income growth, but that isn’t the entire story.) Unfortunately, these spending habits catch up rather rudely when a recession hits. Lawmakers are then scrambling to undo the new and increased spending that they had approved just a few years prior.
I’d like to say that this is a habit unique to government, but it reflects our own personal inability to properly manage our money. The rate of national savings has been in the low double-digits for decades; we spend during fat times and scrimp during lean times, but we don’t pack away money to even out the inevitable dips. The wise use of money dictates that we spend only what is necessary during good times and save the rest for bad times to even out the dips. If that’s good advice for individuals, isn’t is good advice for government?
I’d like to see Utah start tempering its desire to inflate spending during boom years, instead packing away more money in the rainy day fund to avoid huge cuts in recessions. In addition to this, the state would be earning interest on the savings and have cash on hand to pay for projects outright, thus avoiding the use of bonding and the paying of interest. However, until we improve our own personal money management and cure our addiction to credit, we probably will not be able to expect the same of our government.