John Florez: State leaders could leave a legacy of humanity

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Our governor and state legislators ought to advance policies that represent the needs and hopes of all Utahns, especially the poor, in keeping with our moral values. They have an opportunity to help those who are sick and dying for lack of health care by accepting federal funds. That they lived by their values, let that be their legacy.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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“The worship of the ancient golden calf (Exodus 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.” — (Pope Francis, from his recent Apostolic Exhortation on the economy of exclusion and inequality).

What does it say about those Utah elected leaders that espouse Christian values when they hesitate to help the needy yet are eager to help business? They fight to take federal money for business; yet refuse to take federal money when it comes to helping sick and dying Utahns, who can’t afford health care, are unemployed, hungry and homeless.

Some of our leaders’ seeming lack of empathy for the needy comes at a time when there is a growing income inequality gap between Americans. “Between 1979 and 2007, the incomes of the top 1 percent of American earners rose by 275 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Those of the bottom 20 percent rose by 18 percent,” according to The Economist.

While we watch the stock market rise and growing productivity, there is stagnant job growth. Technology and globalization have eliminated the living-wage jobs of the industrial age and replaced them with jobs requiring higher skills related to a digital economy. History has shown that as technology develops, industries and jobs are destroyed and new ones are created. Today's thriving companies are more productive and doing so with fewer people.

Some believe if there were no unemployment benefits, people would find jobs. What jobs? Even a college education is no assurance of finding a living-wage job. “Almost six years after the economic collapse of 2008, the ratio of job seekers to unfilled positions — which peaked at 5.5 to 1 — has declined to 2.9 to 1, a ratio that would until now have indicated severe recession,” David Frum said on CNN Monday.

Some lawmakers dismiss the plight of the poor as their having made poor choices, rather than to the hard blows life sometimes gives. They accuse them of eating at the public trough when they ask for help, yet willingly subsidize employers who do the same. If we believe in Christian values, then it seems we have a moral responsibility to help the poor, the hungry, the infirm, and do so with dignity. Let us commit to the task and ask our leaders to do the same. Regardless of religion, these are universal values that allow people around the world to live in peace.

Our governor and state legislators ought to advance policies that represent the needs and hopes of all Utahns, especially the poor, in keeping with our moral values. They have an opportunity to help those who are sick and dying for lack of health care by accepting federal funds. That they lived by their values, let that be their legacy.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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