For all of the mouth-frothing over the “blind” and “stupid” conservatism of the “sheeple” in Utah, I must conclude that most Utahns are actually quite moderate. Let me put that another way. Utah leans strongly conservative on certain (not all) social issues but isn’t very conservative at all on many fiscal issues.
Despite being quite moderate (some would say liberal) fiscally, Governor Leavitt enjoyed a very high approval rating, except among serious conservatives — a group he pretty much ignored until they forced him into a primary election going into his third term. Of course, he trounced his opponents in the primary and general elections that year, showing the he could ignore conservatives with impunity.
Governor Huntsman enjoys even higher ratings than did Governor Leavitt. But fiscal conservatives have got to be scratching their heads as they try to figure out how the Governor can possibly be a Republican. His positioning on climate issues and government spending, among many other things, show that he is a fan of big government. Of course, the Governor is not devoid of throwing a bone or two to the folks on the conservative side. But he’s a long way from being aligned with them.
The Governor a moderate (arguably more liberal than Gov. Leavitt), at least fiscally. He is Republican out of convenience (as are many legislators). And that is perfectly all right with the vast majority of Utahns. The Governor is pushing the limits (of his constituency and the legislature) when it comes to his approach to climate policy. But most legislators and Utahns either agree or just shrug when the Governor says he knows what to do with the impending $260 million taxpayer overcharge (budget surplus): spend it.
That’s a play right out of the progressive handbook. Oh, I know all of the arguments. This or that is under funded. Government needs to solve this or that crisis. If we don’t ‘invest’ now, it will cost much more later. We’ve got to take care of the unfortunate among us. We’ve got to build a soccer stadium now. And so forth. The arguments for increasing government spending are never ending. It is always so impossible to find efficiencies in the current budget that spending increases are the only way to accomplish what “needs” to be done. None of these issues can ever be appropriately addressed outside of government.
And the arguments against returning overcharges to the taxpayers are just as ubiquitous. Look at the horrendous contortions our elected officials went through to accomplish what amounts to a paltry tax cut in 2006 and a relatively minor tax cut in 2007. And Utahns have yet to actually benefit from either of these cuts.
This follows the standard progressive agenda, which implements this rule of thumb: Once government has your money, it will only be returned to you under extreme duress. The underlying assumption is that the money belongs to the government, not to you. Many editoralists whine whenever the legislature considers cutting taxes that the politicians are merely pandering to their constituents because they fear a backlash at the next election. I’d like to point out that this is precisely the way it’s supposed to work. Our representatives are supposed to satisfactorily represent their constituents or get tossed out at the next election.
Bill Bennett notes in his book, America: The Last Best Hope, Vol. 2 that; although, FDR won the 1940 election by an electoral landslide, “It had not looked that way early on election night.” FDR sequestered himself in his Hyde Park residence “[g]rim-faced and sweating … until victory was assured.” Bennett concludes this vignette by asserting, “It’s a good thing for the leaders of this great republic to fear the people.”
Governor Huntsman, riding high in his approval rating, clearly does not fear his constituents. As long as he doesn’t commit adultery, grand larceny, abuse or murder, he could probably get away with just about anything politically short of instituting martial law and still be able to win his next election. Many legislators are also quite secure in their districts and have little fear of their constituents.
Still, the situation is markedly better than in national politics. The state must still balance its budget, while the federal government, not content to merely spend your tax Dollars, has found a way to spend those of your yet-to-be-born posterity as well. Although both houses of Congress switched party control in the last election, relatively few representative seats are competitive and McCain-Feingold further insulates incumbents from having to fear their constituents.
If I had my wishes (which I don’t because I have not sought to become an elected official), the upcoming $260 million overcharge would be partially returned to the taxpayers and partially invested in the rainy day fund. We have acted with the recent surpluses as if no economic downturn or budget shortfall will ever occur in the future. We’re acting like some Mormons that look at their leaders’ counsel to do food storage with a “What, me worry?” attitude. Our recent spending increases will come back to bite us in the long run. Booming economies are cyclical.
But then, I must remind myself that I am in the minority in Utah. Fiscal conservatism is clearly not a high priority among the voters of this state. If it were, we’d have different people running the executive and legislative branches of our state government.