About 20 years ago while serving as the principal public health officer for the state of Nevada, I was frequently harassed by citizens who expressed a belief that their state government had grown too big and that I, and other civil servants, were "slopping at the public trough." It seemed to me that these same finger pointing citizens would be the first to complain if the well on their residential property was contaminated. Never mind that the budget for regulatory enforcement had never been functionally sized.
These experiences as a state public official came to mind with the recent filing of a bill by Rep. John Dougall that would cut the state's income tax from 5 percent to 4 percent, the state's share of the sales tax from 4.7 percent to 3.5 percent, according to Bob Bernick, reporting on the website Utah Policy. He quotes Dougall as saying, "I ask, can we do more with less? But I also ask, can we do less with less — in other words, how do we stop the growth in government?"
Bernick asked: "Could state government function with this ($600 million) cut?"
"Yes we could," said Dougall, who as budget vice chair deals intricately with state spending. "We could do this and still fund growth in public education. At the very least, we will have a discussion about growth in government — which is always worthwhile."
Having a discussion about negative growth in government should never be separated from a discussion about which functions of government should be cut and how. Apparently Dougall wants positive growth in government functions related to public education, and he has in the past voted for tax increases to fund highway projects, especially those in Utah County.
So, which functions of state and local government does he believe to be unnecessary, or unnecessarily large? Pollution control? Public safety? Law enforcement? Justice? Economic development? Parks? I think Dougall should not be taken seriously unless and until he can specifically identify $600 million in excess government services that we should live without.
And, since Dougall wants to grow the budget for education, he should tell us how the additional funds would best be used. It is the lazy legislator who does not do his homework.
Dr. Joe Jarvis is the chair of the Utah Health care Initiative and has made specific proposals for reducing the Utah Medicaid budget, which can be found at www.utahhealthcareinitiative.com