How can a society that has a tax surplus and raises gas taxes for roads and plans to build a new prison still not find ways to help our sick and dying? It’s a matter of conscience and a reflection of who we are.

Utahns keep claiming we believe in charity and family, yet our lawmakers betray that claim. This last legislative session revealed the wide difference between the values Utahns espouse and the laws legislators promulgate. I fear we have allowed our lawmakers to lose our moral sense. And by moral sense I mean how individuals have an obligation to act in keeping and holding a society together.

Utah’s hallmark has always been our values about family, caring for the poor and each other, sense of community, dignity and worth of every individual. We say we believe in the sanctity of life, yet neglect those that struggle with life. It’s time to stop believing our own rhetoric and realize, as citizens, we have let lawmakers pass laws that make us become more self-serving, more materialistic. It’s the peoples’ government, yet we have allowed individuals to be elected by special-interest groups, rather than the general public.

Polls have shown people were in favor of health care for 125,000 low-income Utahns and opposed the moving of the state prison for private development. In spite of public outcry, lawmakers quickly approved moving the prison. For the last two years, our elected officials have refused accepting federal money to help needy Utah families with health care, arguing they don’t want the federal Affordable Care Act program money because it can’t be trusted; yet 25 percent of the state’s budget is federal money. Last session, the House said it could not take time to consider the health legislation because it had to take up the gas tax. What’s left to study?

Something is wrong when the taxpayers’ voices are ignored and allow politicians who lack courage to make decisions. They passed more than 500 bills, mostly cosmetic, and in the last minute they failed to consider what the citizens wanted and what is consistent with our values. They celebrated the passage of anti-bias and religious law, claiming a rousing success when, in fact, that law had been proposed for over 10 years but never surfaced for debate. It was only when the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came forth for its support did it pass. Which seems to show the lack of courage and leadership in the politicians we elect.

Utah also suffers from leaders in the private sector who seem afraid to use their political capital to deal with critical public issues facing all Utahns. They show for photo ops, then go back in to the shadows.

We blame self-serving politicians for our unresponsive government, yet it’s our responsibility to uphold our public institutions. Politicians will not give up power or change. Our founders knew that and expected citizens to make government work for the people. Our government is not working for the general welfare in keeping with our values. It’s up to us to take back our government. That will require people leading in doing voter registration, changing campaign finance laws, organizing citizens and voting, for starters. As citizens, we have become complacent and in denial, thinking all we have to do is write to lawmakers and lawmakers will do the right thing. We now know better. Lawmaking is a matter of conscience.

Making sure our public policies reflect our values requires our collective conscience. For in the end what’s at stake is the heart and soul of our society.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee and as Utah industrial commissioner. His White House appointments included deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education member. Email: