Something is wrong when our lawmakers seem to care more about taxes than people. It speaks volumes about how some of our Utah state legislators are becoming more disconnected from citizens than ever before. Our voices don’t seem to matter much. Lawmakers don’t seem to listen.
Last week, the speaker of the House killed the chances of considering the governor’s bill for Healthy Utah to provide health care to 126,500 Utahns. It passed the Senate, but the speaker said the House would not hear it because there was not time, they had to consider the gas tax and other issues before the end of the session. It raises the moral question — what is more important: raising gas taxes or the health of our citizens?
Lawmakers ignore public opinion that reflects our values. It looks like we have allowed our values about caring and sense of community to be replaced with things over people. Now, some Utahns are struggling to make ends meet; yet, our politicians don’t seem to care. Some of us Utah natives grew up with a sense of community, caring for each other and lived by the rules. We felt we had a government we could trust. We sensed lawmakers acted in the public’s interest and were visionary and risk-takers.
Things have changed, and now our politicians don’t seem to embrace those values. Some lawmakers, today, seem duplicitous. Matter of fact, they have made the mistake of seeing our patience and respect for authority as a sign of weakness, if not stupidity. Our state is at a tipping point where the latest decisions our state leaders have made over two major issues reveal the conflict between the public’s interest and lawmakers’ self-interest — health care for the working poor and prison relocation for the developers.
On each issue, lawmakers go against public opinion. The public overwhelmingly supports the governor’s Healthy Utah plan, which has been talked about for over two years. Republican legislators kept arguing they could not trust the federal government to continue funding the Affordable Care Act. They argued they could not determine the actual cost and it was not sustainable. On the other hand, they originally acted quickly to approve moving the prison for private development with the sponsor admitting, at the time, that they had no idea of the cost. No worry about sustainability; Utah taxpayers will pick up the tab.
Last Wednesday, however, House leaders did a legislative sleight of hand and held a hearing on the governor’s health plan in a committee, where they voted it down; then magically, from a hat, pulled out a hastily put-together alternative plan they quickly passed. Unlike leaders of the past that were candid and willing to risk for the public good, these politicians came up with a new word, “sustainability” — which means, don’t risk and we are off the hook.
Lost in all this is the compassion. Dr. Vivian Lee, dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, asked the committee to think about a time when they had someone get sick, and how scary it was. For people who are uninsured, it is even more so.
It looks like that in addition to leaving compassion at the door, we now leave millions of our tax dollars in Washington, while we Utah taxpayers may end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars to move the prison for private developers. So much for Utah values.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org