Opinion: Why I think Utah lawmakers have eased burdens during tough times
Utah lawmakers funded affordable housing and child care, and they cut taxes while keeping a triple-A bond rating. And now Utah has been voted the state with the best economic outlook in the nation for 15 straight years.
As inflation skyrockets across the country, life is getting more expensive by the minute for all Americans. Unfortunately, Utah is not immune to this trend and, in many cases, challenges we already faced are made even worse.
Nationally, inflation hit 8.5% in March, the highest rate since 1981, hitting Utah families where they feel it most immediately. Food costs are expected to rise 5% this year. Gas prices are up from a national average of $3.40 in January to $4.43 today — a number that’s even higher at many Utah gas stations.
Just the other day I overheard a 17-year-old on the wrong end of an “OK, Boomer” statement, as she lamented to a 16-year-old new driver about how gas prices were “only $3 per gallon when she got her license.”
Oh, the good old days.
Inflation hits us all when you can’t fill up your tank for less than $60. High fuel prices have an immediate ripple effect through the economy as everything that has to be shipped gets more expensive to move.
The U.S. economy is too large and complex to place the blame solely on a single factor, but the Biden administration’s proclivity for spending money as fast as it can print it is certainly a driving force and has proven to be, at the very least, the straw that has broken the camel’s back for many people.
With federal policies, lingering impacts of the pandemic, supply chain issues and international hostilities all leading to higher prices, the Utah House of Representatives, with our colleagues in the Senate, has taken important steps to make life in Utah more affordable for all who want to call our state home.
Take housing affordability for example. Utah’s annual median home sale price hit $445,000 last year, more than doubling over a seven-year period. At the same time, we saw a housing shortage of 40,000 units, the largest gap in a decade. Low-income housing and starter homes are too rare in our state today, so the Legislature appropriated over $50 million for deeply affordable housing and over $65 million the last two years to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which supports quality, affordable housing options that meet the needs of Utahns.
The latest statistics from the Department of Workforce Services show Utah’s economy is booming, growing by 4% with unemployment down to just 2%. That’s great news, but it also presents challenges for workers looking for quality child care. Across our state, there are more than 98,000 kids that need but don’t have access to child care — about two-thirds of all kids who need child care in our state. In response, we passed legislation that reduces barriers and increases the availability of quality, affordable child care.
While the federal government refuses to balance its budget, Utah lawmakers balance our state budget every year without fail. And each of the last two years we’ve done it while cutting taxes. By leaving more money in your pocket, these tax cuts are one of the ways state lawmakers can most directly reduce the impact of reckless, deficit-funded, federal policies.
After cutting taxes on Utah families, seniors on fixed incomes and veterans in 2021, the Legislature passed an additional $200 million in tax cuts this year, including an income tax cut for all Utahns, a Social Security tax cut and an earned income tax cut for those who need it most.
Even prior to these tax cuts, Utah already had low taxes compared to most of the nation. The best way to ensure Utahns can afford to live here is by making sure they keep more of the money they earn.
Utah’s budget isn’t just balanced, it’s forward-thinking. When the federal government sent billions of dollars to the states, we made sure to invest the money in a way that would bring the greatest long-term return to our state. We don’t do anything that would jeopardize our triple-A bond rating, which allows us to economically fund infrastructure projects. By buying materials when costs are low and building through peaks and valleys in the market, Utah taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck.
Just this week, Utah was named the state with the best economic outlook in the country by ”Rich States Poor, Poor States.” That makes 15 years in a row our state has claimed the top spot. While we can’t fully shield ourselves from bad federal policy, we are doing everything within our power to make a difference to Utah families.
Brad Wilson is the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives