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Among the western states, perhaps nowhere is the Tea Party's state's rights song sung louder than in Utah, where Governor Gary Herbert recently hosted the National Governor's Association annual conference in July. Reporting on his state's record, he spoke of an exchange he had with Pres. Barack Obama were he made a case for helping Mr. Obama balance the federal budget.
"I've talked with President Obama personally. I said I will take less [federal] money, I'll help you balance your budget. You give me lessmoney... but just take the darn strings off the money," pleaded Herbert. "Give me flexibility. We will find innovative ways to in fact make those dollars stretch. We'll do more with less. We've proven the state, we'll help you with your budget problems and we'll have a 'win-win' that's good for the taxpayers."
That assertion will make many Utahns proud, even if it proves to be a stumbling block to their understanding of why there are regulatory agencies organized at the federal level and why Utah is reliant on federal tax monies returning to their state. Since Utah's demographics reflect a "large family" orientation, education funding there has come under scrutiny for per-pupil spending.
The "strings" that most often are assailed by Herbert's republican legislature, among other ultra-conservatives and tea party advocates, are those imposed by federal agencies responsible for setting standards and regulations which some say benefit the entire nation and beyond. Earlier in the year, automakers in several states praised the EPA codification of vehicle emission standards because the manufacturers were not interested in having to respond to a salad of differing emissions and efficiency regulations imposed by individual state governments.
Utahns concerned about under-regulated oil and gas operations and pollution in their state may have been a minority there who helped to elect the nation's 44th president, and few believe that a republican elected to the White House in 2012 will be able to reverse actions taken to phase-out archaic methods of electricity production where more coal is mined than in Appalachia. Utah has a lot of coal to sell, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has said that the Obama administration is not opposed to using it to generate electricity, but that as a nation "we should do it more wisely." This may assure Utah's conservatives and a legislature used to extraction royalties coming from public lands, even if they continue the republican criticism of environmental protection from the federal government. The greater Salt Lake City area, known as "the Wasatch Front," has been dealing with non-attainment status on air quality targets for several years.
Herbert admits that even with an unemployment rate 2 points below the nation's average, there are still too many out of work in his state, which adopted a one-word motto from its inception: "Industry." Describing the example his state has tried to set in areas of fiscal prudence and legislative responsibility, "I would say it this way," offers Herbert, "Utah is an island of tranquility in a sea of chaos."
"Because," says the governor, "of the dysfunctionality" in Washington, D.C., "There are areas where D.C. and other states have fallen away;" using parlance that describes apostasy in Utah on any Sunday, "They have lost their way from good principles."
"Congress is good at doing two things," Herbert asserted, "One: Doing nothing. That's the 'kick it down the road' attitude we've heard, and Two: Overreacting." His solution? In Utah, the governor cites political leadership bent on their own understanding of "fiscal prudence," which to many, including the governor, creates "certainty in the marketplace."
"So that [investment] capital says, 'Hey, that's a good place to go.'"
Governor Herbert will present his budget for 2012 to his legislature in December, and said "I expect it will be a good blueprint of correct prioritization. We'll put the amount of money that we ought to be putting into transportation that will be appropriate. We'll put the amount of money that needs to go into education and the growth pressures we feel to fund the growth in education, to make sure that's a priority." He went on to describe budget priorities for "Health and human services, the 'safety net' aspects, as well as our beautiful vistas and venues that we call our state parks." On the latter funding for his state's parks, he deferred some of the solution to private interest capital and foundation money.This coming December, many eyes will be on the budget proposals Governor Herbert specifies, especially the funding amounts contributed by federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Transportation, whose director personally brought funds to the Beehive State that were allocated for ongoing light rail and mass transit projects earlier in the year. Excluding several million dollars in education funding and the unique situation Utah enjoys with their Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, there are many federal dollars coming into the state from the USDA, the NSA and other agencies which will likely not be acknowledged in the governor's budget or the minds of the arch conservatives in his bi-cameral, monocultured state house.