Like many Utahns, we welcome Vice President Mike Pence to Utah this week. He is scheduled to speak Thursday about the global economy, international trade and Utah’s surprising place as a leader in the 21st century.
It also is an opportunity for us to ask some questions of him.
We note that, 21 years ago, this page asked some tough questions of then-vice president Al Gore, who came to Utah for a December ski trip in Deer Valley. That was on the cusp of an impeachment trial in the Senate, and we had some tough questions for him about how he intended to preside.
At the time, some of our readers reacted to that by accusing us of striking a tone with Gore that we never would use with a Republican vice president. We hope those people, if they are still with us, will find themselves proven wrong.
Utahns, generally speaking, believe in being thrifty and responsible with their funds. The state must, by law, balance its budget yearly. Republicans used to preach this in Washington, too. Why, Mr. Vice President, has the administration gone silent on the need to rein in spending, shrink the annual budget deficit and avoid adding to a national debt that now exceeds $22 trillion?
Why did the administration make a deal for a budget bill that will add nearly $2 trillion to that national debt over the next decade, above the increases that already were expected? Shouldn’t the federal government draw down excess spending during times of plenty, as has historically been the case under previous administrations? How will Washington have the means to react to the next recession?
Mr. Pence, if Thursday is like many recent summer days here, you won’t be able to miss our beautiful mountain vistas and clear blue skies. But it’s not always so nice here. Utah has a real air pollution problem, and it seems to manifest itself mainly in the winter, although ozone levels have been known to spike under the dome of a strong summer high pressure system as well.
When this happens, people get sick. Studies have shown that pregnant women are at a particular risk for miscarriages. The elderly and vulnerable suffer.
So why is the Trump administration working hard to roll back clean air standards? News stories say the administration wants to reduce auto emission standards and go easy on major industrial polluters. The New York Times recently reported that the president is furious with automakers who are making deals with California to continue cutting emissions.
In Utah, people know firsthand what those emissions can do. It’s no laughing matter when people along the Wasatch Front can’t see the mountains, or when the air feels gritty. A recent EPA report documented impressive progress in air quality nationwide since 1970. Why let things get worse?
As you may note in your speech on Thursday, Utah is emerging as a leader in international trade in the Mountain West, and perhaps in the world. A new inland port promises to attract more business, as will a large new international airport. That makes us wonder, when will the trade war with China end? Why does the administration use tariffs as a threat against the nation’s cherished allies as well as its foes? Utah’s economic future could depend on the answer.
Finally, Mr. Pence, we wonder why the administration doesn’t do more for states’ rights. When it comes to things like cracking down on student loan companies, local immigration enforcement rules and a state’s ability to enact its own version of Medicaid reform, the administration tends to decide that it knows best. Instead of arbitrarily redrawing the Bears Ears National Monument, why not work to rewrite the Antiquities Act and allow states a role in decisions that affect land within their borders?
Don’t misunderstand. We’re glad you’re here, Mr. Pence, and we hope you come to love Utah during your short stay. We wish you could stay longer and learn to appreciate it the way so many who live here do. Utah is an emerging state that likes to punch above its weight, but so many of our collective values often get overlooked in Washington, regardless of the party in power.
Maybe your visit will attune you to some of those concerns.