SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said he's not going to be any tougher this legislative session, even though it will be his first as an elected governor.
"I'm just a pussycat. I was a pussycat before and I'm a pussycat now," the governor told the Deseret News. "I believe in collaboration and cooperation."
But that doesn't mean Herbert, who was elected in November to the remaining two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term, won't show his claws if necessary.
"When it comes down to hardball, we have a veto pen and I've used it in the past and I expect we will have opportunity to use it in the future," the GOP governor said. "That's the nature of the business."
He said he expects lawmakers to come around on his budget proposal, which does not include further cuts to state agencies. The Republican majority is calling for as much as a 10 percent cut.
"I've had a lot longer time to look at the budget and the numbers, so my analysis is a little more thorough and a lot deeper than probably the legislators," he said. "I expect as they analyze the numbers, they're going to gravitate closer to my position."
Especially with revenues finally on the upswing, the governor said lawmakers "will realize that we really don't have to have draconian cuts in state government offices and departments anymore."
Chopping too much from the budget could hurt economic recovery, Herbert said, suggesting it would be better to take some time to fill the budget hole left now that federal stimulus funds and other one-time revenue sources are gone.
"It may take an extra year," the governor said. "That's OK. I'd rather take a smoother glide path than have it fall over a cliff, which may have some unintended consequences."
Herbert also said he expects lawmakers will approve measures addressing illegal immigration.
"I'm confident that at the end of the day, we'll come up with a Utah solution which will be reasoned and that I think will be rational," he said. "I think the people of Utah expect the states do something."
Some critics of proposed immigration bills, though, say there is no such thing as a "Utah solution" because immigration reform is a federal matter and proposals such as a state-run, guest-worker program aren't constitutional.
"I believe some things may warrant some scrutiny. I expect the Legislature itself will be careful about passing something that they think is not constitutional. It would be an exercise in futility if they did," the governor said.
Still, he has no problem if immigration legislation ends up being a message to the Washington.
"There certainly is messaging that needs to happen," Herbert said. "That's not a bad thing. … The federal government needs to understand the states are concerned about their lack of attention to their constitutional responsibility to secure the borders."