When asked what it takes to build a champion, famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it.” Being named the No. 1 state in the nation for economic outlook, incredibly for the 16th straight year, in the annual Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index is proof that Wooden’s philosophy works.
Much like sports, fiscal success is more about preparation than anything else. Building on a platform of lower taxes, reasonable regulations and less reliance on the federal government, Utah has established a solid yet flexible economic model that encourages business without sacrificing the state’s responsibility to the people.
Free market policies like a flat personal income tax rate — which will soon drop to 4.65% — along with Utah’s truth in taxation have added much-needed transparency to property taxes and provided economic security while encouraging homeownership. Add up those economic policies, and you get the Beehive State’s surging job market (2.4% statewide unemployment).
That’s far from the case in states trying to replicate the failed California or New York policy blueprint. As their economies continue to falter and revenue falls, their leaders continue charging ahead with a high taxation and over-regulation approach that drives individuals and job creators to search for a more reasonable area to call home — a place like Utah.
None of this happened overnight. Today’s success is built from hardworking, forward-thinking legislators and leaders who spent years establishing a sound economic policy designed to create jobs, spur innovation and promote competition. Planning and preparation placed Utah in a strong position to recover and succeed even in challenging years like 2020. This commitment to excellence in policymaking has kept Utah moving in a positive upward trajectory.
For the past three years, Utah has provided tax relief to its citizens. This year, Utah will cut taxes by $850 million, the largest tax relief in state history. This is only possible because policymakers in Utah focused on fiscal discipline and free-market stability by carefully looking at budget needs, planning for rainy days and encouraging underserved entrepreneurs. Utah’s limited government makes room for individual entrepreneurship and upward mobility of all income levels.
The 15 economic policy variables used to rank states’ economic outlook have proven influential for state competitiveness and growth over time. Rich States, Poor States demonstrates how cutting taxes, paying down debt and maintaining free market policies have significantly helped states attract new residents and enhance the standard of living for all. Chronicling how economic policy can cause Americans to vote with their feet, the annual ranking provides lawmakers with the evidence that free market policy solutions really do lead to more economic competitiveness. And it is not just theoretical, as the people of Utah know well. Utah has led the nation in economic outlook for 16 years — and also led the nation in population growth rates over the past decade. Americans know real economic opportunity when they see it.
Achieving the No. 1 ranking (and then keeping it) is no easy task. Coach Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, reached that NCAA summit a record 10 times by the time he retired in 1975. Nearly everyone recognized the man as a genius. This year, 2023, marks the 16th time Utah has claimed the best economic outlook ranking. Utah’s economy is booming, population growth leads the nation and the state’s future is brighter than ever. Utah’s hardworking people continue to reap the rewards of the most competitive policy environment in America for yet another year. That is truly something to celebrate.
J. Stuart Adams is the Utah senate president. Jonathan Williams is the chief economist and executive vice president of policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council.