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Limit state spending

Published March 3, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In response to The Tribune's editorial of Feb. 26, ""Dunce cap: Spending cap unneeded and unwise," this column sets forth the correct facts and illustrates the purpose of Senate Joint Resolution 22.

If SJR22 is passed by both houses of the Legislature, Utahns would then be able to decide by popular vote whether to ratify this proposed change in the Utah Constitution.

The measure, titled "Joint Resolution on State Spending Limitations," would require a three-fifths majority of both the House and Senate before the Legislature could approve an annual state budget that is greater than any of the annual budgets it passed in the previous five fiscal years.

SJR22 would allow for the budget to fluctuate according to population growth and the rate of inflation in order to meet the growing needs of the state.

When lawmakers vote to increase spending, they express to the public which areas they believe need more funding. However, if the requisite three-fifths approval isn't reached, any increase in state revenue would go toward reducing debt, increasing the rainy day fund or sending taxpayers a rebate.

It is factually incorrect and misleading to compare this legislation to the spending limitations passed by Colorado or any other state because SJR22 allows for more flexibility through statute.

So why fix something that isn't broken?

When there is an increase in revenue — like there was this year — lawmakers' first reactions are to spend it all. There is a "money grab" by special interest groups, which legislators tend to respond to.

SJR22 will help our state address the growing financial storm that the federal government has created. The federal debt is at an alarming $15 trillion and growing, with spending at an all-time high. We are still experiencing the impacts of "The Great Recession" with no end in sight.

Where does that lead us? There are three options for our nation's financial future: 1) continue on the path we are on now, raising the debt ceiling and bankrupting the next generation; 2) taxes will be raised significantly to bring in more revenue in order to pay our debts or 3) the federal government will cut the grants they issue to the states, but continue to mandate expensive programs (such as Medicaid) that will have to be paid for partly by state revenues.

All of these options will place a heavy strain on our economy, with the third option being the most likely scenario. So when federal funding to states is cut (27.6 percent of Utah revenue comes from the federal government), the states must be able to stand on their own financial feet.

No other state is better prepared to do that right now than Utah. This state has been nationally recognized as the best managed state in the Union and our economy is one of the best. State lawmakers have done a tremendous job keeping state spending within our means as well as being able to adapt to tight budget cuts.

However, a constitutionally mandated spending limitation would help ensure that Utah continues to be a fiscally well-managed state. Spending on things like education and research are investments that will yield greater economic prosperity, but with the possibility of losing federal grants we need to tighten our budget and be prepared for the future.

If (or when) the federal grants stop coming, Utah's budget will shrink by up to $3.58 billion. We cannot be dependent on these grants.

If we start now by controlling our spending and making it difficult for future lawmakers to increase spending beyond the normal increase that comes with growth, this will put our state in a position to weather the growing economic storm caused by the fiscal mismanagement of our federal government.

Stuart C. Reid is a Republican representing Davis, Weber and Morgan counties in the Utah Senate, where he is chairman of the Senate Workforce Services and Economic Development Committee. Tyson Prisbrey, a student at Brigham Young University, is a Senate intern.






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