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Opinion: Inflation could upend government in ’22

The people in charge (Democrats, in this case) always get the blame

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Trucks hauling containers depart from Port Miami, in Florida.

Trucks hauling containers depart from Port Miami, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Miami. Inflation was a growing concern throughout 2021. Higher raw materials costs and supply chain problems have raised overall costs for businesses, which have raised prices on goods to offset the impact.

Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press

The holiday decorations are back in storage, 2022 calendars are hanging on walls and weight loss resolutions are still being obeyed. That means it’s time to highlight issues that will be discussed, debated and possibly impact laws and elections in the new year. (Of course, in a year we will remind you of correct predictions and ignore the misses.)

Your columnists are the last generation (which means we are really old) that remembers when inflation was a major political issue. Will history repeat in 2022?

Pignanelli: “Inflation is taxation without legislation.” — Milton Friedman.

History documents that leaders, and often entire governments, can be jettisoned by citizen angst with price inflation. If by Labor Day the cost of household purchases is still increasing beyond 4%, Republican economic messaging will be successful in congressional and down-ballot races.

Webb: Unfortunately, inflation is real and raging. The people in charge (Democrats, in this case) always get the blame. It will be one among many issues that will likely produce a Republican takeover of Congress in the midterm elections later this year.

The U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack will be conducting hearings and issue a report in the new year. Regardless of results, any impact on Utah?

Pignanelli: Because of the needless politicization in the creation of this committee, the conclusions will have limited electoral effect. However, most Utahns will expect their officials to distance themselves from the organizations and individuals responsible for the tragedy.

Webb: What happened on Jan. 6 was a terrible stain on our democracy and those involved should be (and are being) punished. But this investigation isn’t a political winner for Democrats except among their narrow base (whose support they already enjoy). For heartland Americans, it seems Democrats just can’t refrain from mounting one partisan, politically motivated investigation after another to punish Trump. Will they impeach him a third time? The longer it drags on the more it looks like persecution, not prosecution. Citizens are tired of it. 

So far, winter precipitation is above average. If this remains through the spring does the recent desire to deal with water issues and the Great Salt Lake fizzle or continue forward?

Pignanelli: Veteran observers agree that the focus on water issues, including those surrounding the lake, will continue regardless of the weather. Utahns possess the common sense that these problems need attention, and their officials are reflecting this desire.

Webb: The Cox administration and legislative focus on the Great Salt Lake is greatly needed. Providing some significant funding, as proposed, is an important step forward.

Progressive groups disappointed with Republican redistricting maps are considering lawsuits to overturn the plans. Will they succeed, and does this controversy become an election issue?

Pignanelli: The lawsuit does not occur and media coverage fades as their audiences have other concerns.

Webb: A lawsuit at this late date could mess up election schedules for a multitude of candidates who are already off and running. They need to know their district boundaries. Challenges are unlikely to succeed.

Utah’s population continues rapid growth. Does this impact on our lifestyle affect deliberations on state and local levels?

Pignanelli: Affordable housing for young families and much-needed employees will continue to dominate municipal and state actions. Shrewd officials will include discussions regarding better roads, public transportation, parks and public safety to soothe current homeowners.

Webb: Coping with rapid growth is Utah’s biggest challenge. Constant investment in infrastructure is required to maintain mobility, and carrots and sticks are needed to provide affordable housing and high-density, multi-use developments. A plethora of children requires massive education investment. Thank goodness for a strong economy.

Utah enjoys a powerhouse economy. While the benefits are obvious, how should officials respond?

Pignanelli: State officials are examining whether tax incentives are still necessary or should be more strategic in allocation. Further, air quality and water usage are now strong components when reviewing expansion of existing, or recruiting new, manufacturing operations.

Webb: Enjoy the great economy while it lasts. It can’t go on forever. Spend carefully. Cut taxes very strategically — if at all. Don’t give away revenue, because it’s almost impossible to raise taxes to get it back. Utah’s taxes are low by historical standards. Bolster rainy day funds and pay down debt. 

Gov. Spencer Cox and many lawmakers have prioritized development in rural Utah. Does this continue?

Pignanelli: Yes. This strategy is brilliant on so many levels.

Webb: Absolutely. We need to spread out growth and jobs, and reduce urban congestion. People who can work from home can live anywhere and enjoy a great quality of life in rural Utah.

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to rule on many matters issues this year, including mandatory vaccinations and abortion. What is the impact on Utah politics?

Pignanelli: There will be rallies and demonstrations. The Legislature — most likely in a special session — will modify abortion restrictions allowed by the court. The contentious matter will have no influence on the elections. But the decision regarding vaccinations will be a topic in some campaigns.

Webb: Thank goodness for a conservative court that values constitutional originalism. The conservative cause will likely make progress in the judicial system this year. About time.

Will both national and state voting issues dominate discussions and affect voter turnout?

Pignanelli: The legislative audit will confirm Utah is the platinum standard on election integrity. Thus, wrangling on a national level over election laws will not permeate our state.

Webb: Democrats in Congress want to completely federalize election laws and procedures. That would be a terrible mistake that a future GOP Congress or the courts would have to overturn.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.