New governor's first day on the job

Published: Thursday, Aug. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert works in lieutenant governor's office Wednesday.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

Like millions of Utahns before him, Gary Herbert has started a new job — first day Wednesday.

He'll get a nicer office, increased responsibilities. He'll see a raise in his next paycheck — $5,495 a year more, to $109,900 annually. And he now will live in a real mansion.

He knows a lot about this new job. Like so many others who get a promotion, he watched from up close how his former boss handled it. And he's filled in for his boss a number of times.

Still, his new job is unique.

Only 16 other Utahns have had it in the last 113 years.

Gov. Gary Herbert, former county commissioner, former Realtor and developer, family man, husband, father and grandfather, is now Utah's top political dog.

And as the late U.S. President Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here."

"I know that," Herbert said in a Deseret News interview Wednesday afternoon, barely 24 hours from when he was sworn in as governor after former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.

"You can't deflect that buck," Herbert said. "You can't pass it along. Now, I'm the ultimate decider."

He said he has no plans now to either issue new executive orders, or repeal any existing orders. "We're reviewing everything; get the facts before any decisions are made. It may warrant some changes, but not until we have the comfort level that doing so is correct."

Leading a state can be a daunting assignment.

Former Gov. Calvin Rampton, the only man to serve 12 years as state chief executive, would recall a feeling of inadequacy soon before he first took office in 1965.

Sitting with his wife, Lucybeth, in their home, Rampton asked out loud, "What if we disappoint them?" — meaning the people of Utah. Then he answered his own question, "But we won't."

Herbert needs, and has, that confidence. "I have the experience. And I think most of the time I'll get it right."

He is working out of his lieutenant governor's office for now. The governor's private office is being cleaned and won't be ready for the new occupant until next week.

And the Herberts won't move into the Governor's Mansion on South Temple for several weeks. The Huntsmans will be moved out by next Monday, and the residential quarters there must be cleaned as well.

"We don't even know what furniture we need to bring. I guess we'll bring our bed," Herbert said.

Clearly no slackers, Herbert's staff already had a new Web page up Wednesday for the new governor. It can be viewed at utah.gov/governor. Herbert gives a short video statement, asking for all Utahns to work to "move the ship of state forward."

Herbert's first real test is still months away. In December, by law, he must recommend to the Legislature a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010-11.

Because of the ongoing economic recession, and accompanying drop in state tax revenues — and because lawmakers put so many "one-time" funds, both state surpluses from years gone by and the federal stimulus package, into the current year's budget — Herbert and lawmakers face an estimated $700 million funding gap between this year's spending plan and the base budget for next year.

In his inaugural address Tuesday, Herbert did not talk about any tax cuts or tax hikes.

Some GOP legislative leaders, however, have already said they will consider raising a few targeted taxes, like alcohol and tobacco taxes, to help close the budget shortfall.

"But budget is the big thing," Herbert said. He was setting up meetings Wednesday with all of his department heads, all of whom he plans to retain. "We need to make the state more efficient. We've done that already, but we can do more." He's also setting up dates to travel the state meeting business leaders "on their own turf," to see firsthand what must be done to help grow the economy.

"I don't feel uncomfortable in the (new) job," he said. "I recognize the weight of it. It is mine now, and I own it."

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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