John Florez: Utah is short on checks and balances

Published: Saturday, May 14 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah government has checks and balances. Well, maybe that's half right. The public signs the check, but there is no balance.

That became evident last week when the legislature called a special session to override the governor's vetoes at a cost of over $30,000 for two special sessions. The first day cost $27,000 and the second day $7,000. That was necessary because they had to wait for a lawmaker to return to the state to cast the one vote needed to override HB328, which changed state employees' workdays from four to five days. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, did it because he was concerned it would create a wrong image for taxpayers. He said, "It's the wrong projection to others out there, those who pay the taxes to support these systems."

However, spending tax dollars unnecessarily does not seem to bother legislators. They held the second-day session because they didn't have the necessary votes to override it on the first. Not a problem, they even had a Highway Patrol car waiting to rush a senator from the airport to the capital to cast the deciding vote. The second session was a waste of money because the change of days could have been done by executive order. Oh well, its only taxpayer money.

These override sessions called by a party that overwhelmingly controls our state government shows what can happen when one party has no constraints or challenges. They not only overrode the governor's vetoes, but also ignored the public's interests. Voters were more concerned about education than roads. Furthermore, lawmakers showed no concern about disrupting public employees' lives that had to adjust to the previous change. It gives public "servant" a new meaning.

This is the conservative party that thinks it's wasteful to help 20,000 unemployed Utahns, wants to require Medicaid parents to volunteer to pay back for accepting tax dollars and shows no concern about the public's persistent call for open and accountable government. In the waning hours of the last session, they passed HB477, dismantling the open records act. The law was an attempt to limit access to pubic records. Only when there was an overwhelming public reaction did lawmakers call for one of those $30,000 special sessions to repeal the bill they had tried to slip by the public.

We were taught public officials were to be held to a higher standard and trusted to be good stewards of our institutions; however, the actions of the Legislature now seem to be that they do not care. Somewhere they have lost sight of serving the public or responding to their voices. They seem to listen to lobbyists so much that some tell us they don't want to bother their constituents by asking them for campaign contributions.

Lawmakers' vision seems limited to the next election. They see economic development as an end in itself rather than the bottom line — improving our quality of life. In an economy where jobs call for new skills and an infrastructure for their development, the passage of SB229 that earmarks 30 percent of state dollars for roads is short-sighted and fails to allow for the budget flexibility and agility the state needs to compete in a dynamic global economy. The governor had it right.

A Legislature controlled by one party places a greater burden on itself for self-examination, responding to the people's voices, giving policies the public scrutiny they require and appointing lawmakers with integrity who work in the public's interest.

The public deserves checks and balances in a government they can take to the bank.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, was former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments — including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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