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Measure twice, cut once

Senate President John Valentine's caution about slashing Utahns' taxes is well taken. Valentine, R-Orem, told the Deseret Morning News that he wants to see how lower tax rates imposed in past legislative sessions affect tax collections. Then Valentine, who is a tax attorney in private life, would be willing to discuss cutting taxes further.

Considering 2008 is an election year, most incumbents would love to campaign on a record of cutting taxes — again. But they also recognize that Utah's economy is in danger of losing steam. Construction of new housing has slowed. and home prices are on a downward trend. The state's unemployment rate has risen slightly, while job growth has fallen slightly.

Beyond that, there are many unmet needs in state government. The Department of Corrections, for one, houses 1,500 inmates in 20 facilities not under their direct supervision. Recently, two convicted killers escaped from one such placement, the Daggett County Jail. They were on the run nearly a week before citizens' tips enabled law enforcement to arrest them in Wyoming. Upon subsequent review of the facility, corrections officials determined the jail had considerable security deficiencies. Forty-five other inmates have since been moved to other facilities. Other contract facilities are under review. Seemingly, the prison needs more prison beds under its direct supervision. More beds, of course, would require more operational resources.

Other departments of state government also have significant building needs. Take the state's college and university campuses, for instance. Some new buildings are needed to accommodate growth. Others need extensive upgrades and renovation to extend their usefulness, improve energy efficiency and enhance learning atmospheres.

Other needs have been on lawmakers' agendas for years: foster care stipends, services for people with disabilities, improved salaries for state troopers. For that matter, the pay and benefits of most state employees lag behind that of higher-paying county and municipal agencies. How can the state compete for workers to do the important work of state government when employees can be readily lured to greener pastures?

And in times of plenty, it makes good sense to put some money away for a rainy day. Although Utah's economy has been healthy, the state is beginning to see signs of a slowdown.

We're not suggesting that an estimated $400 million surplus should result in a free-for-all in state government. For that matter, the state cannot exceed its government growth cap. But state lawmakers, as Valentine suggests, would do well to take a deep breath, get a firm grip on the revenue picture, determine what areas of government have legitimate needs and then entertain cutting taxes.