If the small group of lawmakers who voted to slash the budgets of two important state divisions this week were just trying to get the attention of bureaucrats, they have proved their point. Accountability is important, and everyone on Capitol Hill should have an understanding of what state agencies do.
But once the educating has been done, lawmakers need to restore the budgets of the Division of Travel Development and the Utah Technology Finance Corp. Both are important, and both contribute to the overall health of the economy. And neither deserves to get caught in a web of politics and misunderstanding.It wasn't that the lawmakers, members of the Economic Development and Human Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, just wanted to scare these divisions with a few cuts. They voted to reduce the budgets of each to zero, effectively wiping them off the face of the Earth.
The truth is, neither budget makes much of a dent on the state's overall budget. Travel Development has asked for $3.8 million and UTFC normally receives only $1 million. If lawmakers get into this nickel-and-dime mode, they would need about 100 more such cuts to cover the added costs of I-15 construction. But, in the meantime, they might find themselves coming up short in other areas.
Tourism adds an estimated $300 million to Utah's economy each year. Granted, the Travel Development Division can't take credit for all that. Resorts, county governments and other tourism-related companies do their share of advertising and marketing, as well. Many visitors would come here without any prodding. But the division acts as a clearinghouse for many out-of-state inquiries, and it often accompanies visiting media on tours of the state, gaining positive publicity in return. If it disappears, who will answer the phone when someone calls to learn more about Utah?
The UTFC helps new companies on their way to a healthy start by providing seed money. That is as important during good times as it is during a recession.
Lawmakers have a right to demand accountability from these and all agencies. They ought to listen to division directors and probe their answers and operations as thoroughly as possible.
But they shouldn't eliminate entire divisions without first offering credible, educated arguments that they no longer are needed. In both these cases, such arguments have not yet been made.