Utah's challenges are not unique, just intensified.
The National Conference of State Legislatures released a list of top-10 issues states are dealing with as 2006 begins. On that list was funding for education and the vexing question of illegal immigration.
But while a lot of states are dealing with these issues, few are to the extent that Utah is. As the U.S. Census Bureau made clear recently, this state is growing quickly twice the national growth rate. It has added 236,387 new people since 2000, and many of those have been new move-ins, not just natural growth reflecting the state's high birthrate. This growth is higher than the experts had predicted, and it will put strains on the school system, the transportation infrastructure and local planning and zoning boards.
For these reasons, the Deseret Morning News editorial board has chosen the challenge of dealing with the many facets of growth as the top editorial goal for 2006. This means putting pressure on local officials to plan intelligently, so that new developments don't overrun the need for parks and open spaces. It also means finding ways to intelligently deal with needs in education, transportation and other areas.
In various ways, growth-related issues have been part of our yearly goals for several years. But now the need is greater than ever and, frankly, local officials seem to be having trouble balancing the desire for big-box retailers with the need to preserve the state's rich quality of life. In part, this is due to a state tax structure that encourages cities to use public money to attract retailers.
In addition, the editorial board will focus this year on promoting sensible immigration reform a carryover from last year and on encouraging informed public debate.
Immigration reform is shaping up to be one of the big issues in the 2006 election. Political careers may be upended because of it. But much of the debate as been shaped by opinions that are less than educated or practical. With 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, and with much of the economy dependent on the work they provide, the nation can't simply round them all up and deport them. Nor does it make sense to classify them all as felons.
The answer lies in reforms along the lines of President Bush's guest-worker pass proposal, which would allow immigrants to stay here legally if gainfully employed. It also lies in shoring up border patrols to make it less easy to slip into the United States. Again, Utah is facing a greater-than-average challenge in dealing with these issues.
Finally, the need for informed public debate cuts across all issues and is an important aspect of life in a free society. With various radio and television talk shows encouraging loud and obnoxious partisan name-calling, Americans seem to be losing the ability to debate and analyze with an open mind. That means being open to the idea that your position may be wrong, and giving your opponent a measure of respect. It means arguing forcefully but with civility.
As always, we are not abandoning our goals from 2005 or from any previous year. We remain committed to keeping nuclear waste out of Utah, for instance. However, we particularly hope to keep Utahns focused on these three areas.