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Greg Bell: Washington still has a lot to learn from the state of Utah

Mitt Romney speaks at the 2018 Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit at the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.
Mitt Romney speaks at the 2018 Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit at the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

At the 2018 Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit held earlier this week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and keynote speaker former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made the point that Utah is doing many things right and could teach Washington, D.C., much about good governance.

Throughout the summit, speakers mentioned Utah’s high standing among states as the leading economy, most diversified economy, best-managed state, highest state for job growth and a state with one of the lowest unemployment rates. Herbert said Utah’s unemployment rate has been under 4 percent for 46 months. Speaker Greg Hughes touted Utah’s investment of $800 million in new money in public education in the last three years. Utah borrows sparingly and has significant savings in rainy day funds. The list goes on.

By contrast, the federal government borrows one of every three dollars it spends. Two-thirds of expenditures are mandatory and not capped in dollars or enrollment, meaning that Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, welfare and other entitlements are open-ended. Can you imagine managing a budget in which two-thirds of expenditures are unlimited? This alone is madness. The Social Security trust fund was supposed to accumulate to pay Social Security benefits, but the feds have long since borrowed all of it.

After paying for entitlements, defense and the interest on the national debt, only 16 percent of the federal budget remains for nondefense discretionary spending that finances all the rest of our federal government agencies and programs. Romney’s graph projecting the federal debt into the future was like a stab to the heart. One has to ask if we can we ever gain control of the federal budget.

Utah has removed hundreds of extraneous regulations that added little value.

On the other hand, excessive regulation at the federal level is so oppressive and expensive that it stifles business and other worthy economic and societal endeavors. The Economist quotes the Mercatus Center’s research finding that by 2008 we had approaching a million federal regulations containing the words "shall" or "must." The massive Dodd-Frank and Affordable Care Acts added thousands of onerous regulations. One health care CEO told me he had to hire numerous attorneys, actuaries and accountants to comply with the byzantine complexities of the ACA.

Utah welcomes immigrants — from everywhere — and tries to help them attain the American dream. We generally help Dreamers enjoy the benefits of our society and educational system. Most Dreamers are going to live here, so why not educate them and assist them to become productive, tax-paying residents, if not citizens. Utah’s policymakers and religious and cultural leaders came together to write the Utah Compact, which provided rational principles for addressing immigration.

By contrast, immigration reform in Washington seems stymied. We badly need our federal government to give us a legal, reliable and fair immigration program.

Utah has also maintained an attitude of bipartisanship, although we are not immune from the toxic spores of incivility and hyperpartisanship wafting in from Washington, D.C.

As every reader knows, America’s national elected representatives are locked in perpetual strife in which party and winning seem to trump every other consideration. Grounds for cooperation and bipartisanship have almost vanished.

It would be wonderful if we could transplant to our nation’s capital the many things which Utah does so well. This would enable America to take a giant leap — especially if we also “beamed” Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox and many of our other leaders of both parties to run our federal government.

Some things about Utah’s politics we shouldn’t export: 1. Hard-set cynicism about our public education system; 2. refusal to raise taxes for anything, ever; 3. an attitude that any government anywhere must be evil; and 4. treating Democrats as morally flawed people and their perspectives and ideas as ridiculously stupid.

May our national leaders take note of Utah’s success from balanced budgets, a civil atmosphere, bipartisan cooperation, part-time lawmakers who are in touch with the people, wise and fair taxation policies, honoring free markets and ethical leadership. It’s what most Utahns, and Americans, want.