On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert appeared before the Deseret News editorial board to present his annual budget. It was the 11th time he has come to share numbers on tax revenues, investments, costs and projections reflecting how taxpayer money will be collected and spent by Utah’s government. Such presentations can be dry, monotonous and wonky. Wednesday’s was different in a way that showed why Utah is different.
At one point in proceedings, Gov. Herbert paused and shared an experience he had with a constituent. The individual expressed to the governor that he either had to move to Utah from California or lose his job and that he was not happy to come to the Beehive State for a number of reasons. “After two years living here,” he told Herbert, “There is no amount of money that would get me to leave Utah.” The governor’s voice caught, in an emotional moment.
The story could have been a nice break in a number crunching exercise. Deseret News editor Doug Wilks, however, wisely asked a follow-up question, “Governor, why the emotion with that experience?”
The governor retraced the founding of the state of Utah — people simply looking for a place to build a community, raise their families and exercise their beliefs. He described what these hearty souls did that was unique and different from others travelers crossing the American plains in pursuit of opportunity in California or Oregon.
“They planted crops they would never harvest and improved trails they would never step foot on again,” he said. In other words, they took the time and expended great effort to ensure that those who would follow would have what they needed to survive and succeed. That is the Utah way.
Utah continues to lead the nation in many significant and meaningful categories. It is a laboratory of democracy that shows how a free-market economy and institutions of civil society create opportunities for all.
Such success can create complacency. There are many challenges facing the state. Some issues, stemming from increased population and growth, are natural byproducts of achievement. Others, like opioids, teen suicide, homelessness and access to health care are not. All require leaders to look ahead, around corners and commit today’s resources to ensuring a better tomorrow for the people of Utah.
Leadership is never about dollars and cents, it is about deploying them properly to make a difference. The numbers do have to add up, and Utah’s balanced budget and rainy-day fund prove to the federal government that it actually can be done. How those resources are used, on behalf of people, today and for the future is the test of leadership.
As the meeting drew to a close, the governor, with deep emotion, spoke to how this arid desert, a barren and forsaken spot, really had come to blossom as a rose. It was clear that, in his view, it is the people who had and will continue to make that happen. He continued, “I love this state and its people. I love what we stand for. I am grateful for our success as we are now the gold standard for states. We have a great heritage and a great future.”
With a final pause, Herbert said, “Utah’s first governor declared this to be the right place, and today Utah’s 17th governor is saying that this is still the right place.”
This governor, the Legislature and whomever succeeds them in office in the years ahead should wisely and prudently invest in crops they will never harvest, expand trails and roads they will not travel, improve air they will not breathe and ensure educational opportunities for young people they will never meet. That is the Utah way.