During the 1980 Anderson/Reagan presidential debates, a reporter asked candidate John Anderson what he would do to prevent inflation. He responded with a lengthy, detailed and intellectual analysis about how he would do it. When the same question was given candidate Reagan, he gave a simple answer: “Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.” That’s what we ought to do with our Utah Legislature, which acts as if it has no limit, simply swiping the taxpayers’ credit card.
That seemed especially true this last legislative session, when the state had a large budget surplus. All legislators did was act like kids in Jimmy’s candy store, where I spent my penny allowance after school at Riverside Elementary. Jimmy had an irresistible grab-bag barrel full of closed brown bags that you paid a nickel to buy and see what was in them. It was usually more old candy and a tin toy. But since my pennies were burning a hole in my pocket, I had to spend them. Same went for our lawmakers.
This year, the Utah budget still has a total of $550 million more available than last year. It lets lawmakers see how they could spend our tax money burning a hole in their pockets. Since it's an election year, lawmakers didn’t seem too eager to deal with the people’s issues — the heavy lifting — like health care for the working poor. Instead they tried to make us believe they were doing something great by helping the poorest and providing health care only to prisoners, the chronically homeless and people in need of treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues. They squandered our tax dollars on bills that could help them appear bold to win re-election.
With the federal government shut down in October 2013, they voted to spend $1.7 million to keep Utah’s national parks open, with Rep. Brad Dee saying to consider it a “donation” since there was no commitment by the feds to pay it back. However, last session they passed a resolution to bill the federal government $1 million for shutting down the government. Maybe instead they should be sending the bill to Sen. Mike Lee and his friend Sen. Ted Cruz, who led the charge to shut the government down.
They voted to gamble $14 million to hire a New Orleans law firm to sue the federal government to take back federal lands, a deal they were told they had little chance to win. No matter, we taxpayers gave them a big allowance to spend. In addition, they hired a local lobbying group at $2 million to work on public land issues.
They also appropriated $51 million to get a port in Oakland, California, so Utah coal could be shipped overseas. What makes it questionable is that spending on coal comes at a time when the public wants clean air and alternate energy. Dismissed are the concerns of the public who want to have clean air for families and children.
Since it’s not their money and we keep allowing them to tax us and spend money as though they were in Jimmy’s candy store, we have only ourselves to blame. What we ought to do is what Ronald Reagan said: “Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.”
Utahn John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee and as Utah industrial commissioner. His Bush 41 White House appointments included deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education member. firstname.lastname@example.org.