Howard Stephenson
November 27, 2009

As Utahns gather to count their blessings this year, let us give thanks that we live in a state that rewards hard work, is well-managed and resists pressure to change for change sake.

Our state faces a record budget gap, estimated at $850 million (with some estimates now swelling to $1 billion as the 2010 legislative session approaches). With a shortfall brought about by the severity of the national recession, Utah’s leaders face daunting choices, but as they seek to balance the state’s books they should not abandon the core principles that have guided Utah so well for so many years.

It seems that the notion of “change” in government has evolved to mean tax increases. Throughout the land new taxes and fees are being proposed to an astonishing degree. The federal government is considering a wide array of new taxes to fund a burgeoning list of obligations and new spending.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that, as of July, 36 states had hiked taxes by $24 billion just this year.

Utah did not vote for this kind of change in last year’s election; Utah voters are fully aware of the challenges facing themselves, their families and the government in these difficult times. As Utahns have been forced to make tough spending decisions, and defer ambitions to richer days, so, too, must their government.

Fortunately, Utahns can be thankful that Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature are focused on responsible spending and prudent financial management, even when the choices are difficult. As a result, Utah has one of the healthier state governments in the nation, bettered only by energy resource states such as Montana, Wyoming and Texas. Utah’s relative fiscal health didn’t happen by accident; it was the result of strong leadership that put the will of the people over the inertia of government and its special interests.

To change Utah’s ways and impose hundreds of millions of dollars of tax increases upon its citizens in the midst of this economic downturn would set Utah on the same path as other states whose economic problems have never been solved by higher levies. Difficult as it may be, now is not the time to place the recession’s burden on the government squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers.

As Gov. Herbert has repeatedly and rightly said, putting people first does not mean protecting popular government spending; it means exercising strong leadership for the long-term benefit of all. There will always be worthy and important causes and needs, and painful choices; we all — including government — must bear the burden of financial responsibility.

Utah has great fundamentals for a strong recovery when the national economy begins to move forward: a growing, energetic population, excellent infrastructure and resources, and an attractive business climate.

And a citizenry with the capacity to do the hard work needed in hard times.

Now is not the time to change a formula that has served Utah so well and embrace the approach of higher taxes that has sapped the life and future out of so many other states and communities. Whether the proposal is a cigarette tax increase, a food tax increase, or any other tax hike, there will be better days ahead if we don’t impose new burdens upon struggling taxpayers now. A tax hike today rarely becomes a tax cut tomorrow.

This economic downturn will end, and when it does Utah will be better positioned to benefit from the recovery. This is not the time for us to change our thrifty and thoughtful ways of managing our state to make it through this passing storm.

We have much to be thankful for in Utah, most important our faith in our ability to meet difficult challenges that come our way. We cannot take the easy way out by simply raising taxes; we have to give thanks for the strength we have to weather these difficult times.