We learned last month that our state is short $130 million, meaning our revenue was less than we expected back in February. And no, $130 million revenue deficit is not “right on target,” as some claim. To put this in perspective, that’s roughly the combination of the yearly average salary of over 2,300 Utahns. 

When a state’s budget is in the red, there are three main options to deal with it: Borrow from the reserves, raise taxes or reduce spending. There’s also a fourth option, which involves budgeting prior year’s revenue in a subsequent fiscal year, but let’s keep it simple. 

The first option of dipping into our state’s reserves should be a last resort, used only for emergencies. The problem with this route is our revenue is weakening and inflation, government spending and higher interest rates are largely to thank for that. This would make dealing with our overspending more difficult down the road. It also fails to set proper spending expectations, which is a dangerous precedent if we want to set ourselves up for long-term financial success. This would be like borrowing money from a kid’s piggybank to pay an electric bill. 

Though our state could end this fiscal year with a revenue deficit upwards of $150 million, after all the accounting transfers are complete, a large chunk of the budget is allocated for specific line items. This makes it harder to move money around when each dollar has a specific designation. No one can predict the future, but what we can do is learn from the past and use commonsense solutions to tackle our current fiscal challenges, regardless of what damaging policies come out of the White House. 

The second option entails raising our taxes. Too many politicians chomp at the bit to take more of our hard-earned dollars. But that’s just it, the more taxes they collect, the more they spend. Hence, the vicious cycle. There’s a reason our nation is over $31 trillion in debt. We have a spending problem with no plans to rein in these reckless habits. Instead, the government prints money to temporarily fix this, which in turn enlarges the problem with inflation. Therefore, our grocery bills continue to skyrocket with honest Utah families feeling the ever-tightening squeeze on our budgets. 

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We have slowly shifted from a mindset of self-reliance to a mentality of government reliance. Instead of looking to private citizens and business owners as the problem solvers, we instead look to government. Self-governance has become an ancient concept. President Ronald Reagan said it best, “government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” 

The third option is spending less, which is the most responsible path forward. Politicians don’t care much for this route. Between two candidates, why wouldn’t people support the one promising the “free” stuff? Most of us know though, in our hearts, that nothing is really free.

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Candidates used to win over voters by campaigning to cut our taxes, but now they win by writing blank checks. Governing responsibly means we must be proactive and stick to a budget that allows us to live within our means and find ways to sensibly cut costs. This includes looking for ways to claw back our obsession with “public investment” as well. The more difficult option, and the one most needed. 

The Beehive State is strong because our families are strong, not because our government is big. We Utahns solve problems and overcome barriers. We take pride in governing ourselves, and doing it well. We work hard and rely on family and neighbors when times get tough. It’s what makes our state special, and it’s why our economy has thrived. 

A few short months ago, the two of us called on the Utah Legislature to return more of our state’s $5 billion available revenue to the taxpayers, rather than plowing more money into government projects. Now we find ourselves here. Let’s have our state revenue deficit of $130 million be a number of the past as we learn from it, look to the future and find innovative ways to slow the growth of both federal, and state, spending. Let’s shift back toward governing ourselves with dignity and respect, while truly honoring the taxpayers who make it all possible. 

Carolyn Phippen is the executive director of Freedom Front of Utah. Thomas Young, Ph.D., is an economist.

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