Commentary by Ed Wallace, Publisher / May 26, 2020
The Utah Legislature is meeting to determine how our state bureaucracy spends taxpayer dollars by shrinking spending in response to the MANDATED DISASTER that caused a major shortfall in revenue. Supposedly, they will be aggressively reviewing every penny of taxpayers’ money that Utah spends. IF they produce good fiscal policy, without raising taxes like other states are already planning to do, Utah will eventually come out of this downturn stronger, faster and better than ever before.
Utah’s Constitutional “power of the purse” will be deployed by all members of each Appropriations Subcommittee as they put their piece of the state’s budget together. Their recommendations will then be funneled upward to the Super Powered “Executive Appropriations Committee” where Brad Last (HD71), on the House side, and the other members can then do whatever they want. While it’s truly unfortunate that it took a crisis as ugly as this one to motivate the upcoming Fiscal Tightening across the board, many have been advocating for a tighter state budget for YEARS.
A mechanism for cutting costs was created and proposed by Travis Seegmiller (HD62) 2.5 months ago during the 2020 General Session. It never saw daylight because it didn’t have the support of the Governor’s Office of Management & Budget and the Rules Committee rejected it. Now, Utah is in desperate need of those provisions and our lawmakers are doing exactly what they should have done earlier when they didn’t see the need to reduce spending and rejected Seegmiller’s proposal.
If our lawmakers stay true to form, the discussion will likely start with cutting the handful of basic services that the government is mandated by the Constitution to provide, like police and fire, along with every government function that interfaces with the public, resulting in the most pain to the people who fund the government.
BUT, since most of our lawmakers are Republicans AND CLAIM to be conservatives, they will work tirelessly to advance the UTGOP platform by decreasing and limiting taxation and regulations, encouraging economic development, and staying within the Constitutional parameters of the proper role of government.
Undoubtedly, there are ways to make Utah run on fewer tax dollars but lawmakers have a remarkable inability to cut spending, so many recently rallied around another “solution”: Net tax hikes disguised as tax reform. That didn’t work so well when over 150,000 Utahns put the Legislature in its place and signed a referendum to repeal Utah Senate Bill 2001, titled “Tax Restructuring Revisions.” The Legislature denied that referendum to be on the 2020 ballot and rendered the voter’s desire moot by repealing the bill.
We now have the largest unemployment rate since the great depression of the 1920’s. Since March, over 133,000 Utah workers have been idled and the unemployment rate has increased by around 1,400%. The new guidelines for restaurants will result in a mandatory and enforced failure.
Thousands of small farmers, artists and craftspeople who depend on the extra $100 to $200 weekly that they make at markets are struggling. The lower (servant) and middle class are being ravaged. About half of all small businesses are in danger of failing during this pandemic. The tourism industry that Utah excels in has been devastated. Schools, theaters, and malls have been closed. Even the funeral industry has died
A poorer Utah will be a more vulnerable and less healthy Utah. It is largely due to the flexibility, strength, and ingenuity of America’s capitalist players that we are riding-out this crisis. The private sector bails out the government every day of the week by paying taxes.
In order for our society and government to continue, the opportunities that freedom and liberty provide us must be restored as soon as possible. Instead of standing by us our government is crushing and defeating us. If any lesson can be learned from our current crisis, it is that the best thing the government can do is GET OUT OF THE WAY. It is not the government’s place to decide what aspects of our lives are essential or nonessential.
The problems we face today are being defined as an allegedly shrinking sales tax base but are much more complex. The ONLY sensible solutions that our lawmakers should consider are decreasing the size of government and regulations, major budget cuts, lowering taxes, paying off our $27.7bil state debt, and fostering the premise of self responsibility along with the goal of preserving freedom.
Our lawmakers should be focusing on removing regulatory and trade barriers to economic activity while allowing the private-sector responses to be more flexible. Eventually, every regulation should go under the microscope. We need markets to be free.
President Trump led the way last week by instructing agencies to address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that they deem as hampering an economic recovery.
Here in Utah, the Appropriations Subcommittees could demand that any agency that is inhibiting the growth or our economy IMMEDIATELY SUSPEND any regulation or Executive Order that is doing so or FUNDING WILL BE PULLED. That would include the Department of Health which has had 130 years preparing for a situation like COVID-19.
Any changes to tax policy should fund appropriate spending and avoid slowing economic growth. The efforts to assist the newly unemployed and businesses for their loss of income should come from aid programs that already exist, instead of creating new ones. That assistance should be targeted at the most vulnerable of our citizens. The appropriation committees could provide separate sums to help low-income uninsured Utahns who don’t otherwise qualify for aid as well as a policy response that leverages Medicaid to help low-income citizens to access health care. The solution for transit agencies is to cut service to a level they can afford. Instead of bailing out transit, it’s time to start thinking about phasing out the subsidies we give it. There’s not much room for transit in a world of social distancing.
There are estimates that 60-85% of the federal and state budget could be cut IF the Constitutional parameters of the proper role of government were maintained. Much has been done out of ignorance and under the false pretenses of the general welfare and commerce clauses. These were never intended to be endless wells of power for our government to draw from, but a description of when it would be proper to use their enumerated powers and delegated authority. The problem we face is cultural. Our politics are merely a symptom.
For instance, since Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘War on Poverty’ in 1964, it has cost over $22 trillion of taxpayers money with no effect at all. The only thing this welfare has done is to create a need for even more assistance in the future. It is self-perpetuating. Johnson wanted to free the poor from needing government aid instead of increasing their dependence.
The corona virus is something that we have to learn to live with. It’s time to open all businesses that want to and let them figure out how to do it with precautions and with acceptable risk. People are not forced to go to a business. Everyone has a right to live their lives, work, and live the American dream.
There is no logical reason why nail salons, liquor stores, and abortion clinics, are “allowed” to remain opened while hair salons, churches and “non-essential” business must be closed. This nonsensical situation that our government has created will go down as one of the political world’s biggest, most shamefully overblown, irrationally inflated, immoral and outright deceptively flawed responses to a health matter in American history, one that was carried largely on the lips of medical professionals who presented flawed data, can’t even agree with each other, and have no business running a economy or government. Never before have we quarantined the healthy.
The data to keep America closed and out of work simply doesn’t exist. If truth be told, it’s questionable it ever did. But from faulty overinflated computer figures came all the constitutionally questionable actions by the government anyway including some quick, pitiful and economically painful income redistribution schemes via stimulus funds’ legislation.
House Leadership, led by Speaker Brad Wilson, could also push for a minimum level of ethical requirements on our elected and appointed officials. A good place to start would be to put a muzzle on the King of Pork: Brad “Take Their Last Cent” Last. Mr. Last is the head of the Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee, which is the “last word” on how state revenue will be spent. He is the most powerful man in the state when it comes to allocating and managing the HYPER GROWTH of the $18.5BN+ state budget. He is arguably the primary motivator of the gargantuan growth of our state bureaucracy and the annual expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Since Mr. Last was voted into office 18 years ago, the state’s blowing of taxpayer’s dollars has grown by over 257% from $7.2billion to $18.5bil.
In 2019, Utah taxpayers put $198,620 into Mr. Last’s pocket. DSU paid him $142,111 plus $26,146 in benefits. The legislature then pays him another $30,363 in wages and benefits (Source: UtahOpenGov.com). How does it make ethical sense to have someone hired on a HUGE state salary whose job description is to get more money for the University but who simultaneously is the HEAD of all the state’s Executive Appropriations. How do DSU and the legislature possibly turn their heads and keep this all straight? Brad Last has easily become a millionaire off the backs of his constituents and Utah taxpayers, many of who work 2-4 jobs just to come home broke and stuff what little cash they have left into their socks to take with them to their new home under the bridge.
The facts are this: COVID-19 is a real disease that sickens some, proves fatal to others, mostly the elderly — and does nothing to the vast majority. 97 have died in Utah due to coronavirus — or have they? Again, the facts are flimsy. If you’re going to dance on someone’s constitutional rights, you better have a REALLY GOOD REASON, not just a theory. The corona-virus may be real — but the hype is hoaxed. Every person alive has a health condition that could cause them to drop dead at any moment. It’s called LIFE. COVID-19 is one more thing in a world filled with things that can kill us. How are we going to be protected from life? Is that a job that only the nanny-state can decide?
Do we even see that we are slaves to the state when bureaucrats order us around with our daily behavior? When the government can tell us what we can or can’t do with our pursuit of happiness, our increase, our livelihood and freedom, then we have lost the Republic and we have become a combination of the two evil cousins to marxist dictatorship: fascism and socialism.
It is the ability of people and countries to adapt that creates true economic resilience. Small business is the lifeblood of our economy and we need to appreciate their financial vulnerabilities. Our responsibility toward future generations and the insistence of the present time depends upon vigilant action by our state and federal legislators today. Our leaders must now dignify the sacrifices of Utah families and workers by safeguarding the fiscal health of our state.
Every story we tell, in hard and easy times, is one about the cooperative or coercive ways of human nature. A minimum level of coercion is necessary, just as government itself is necessary. But let us not fall into the trap of confusing government with a civil society. As Tom Paine said in Common Sense in 1776: “Society in every state is a blessing, but the Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.”
It’s time to allow adults to be adults and act in a reasonable and responsible manner. End the shutdown. Let Utah be Utah.. the state of industry…. the land of the free… the home of the brave.
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