The future is bright for many Utahns. So bright, in fact, that it could be blinding us to the many inequities that still exist here.
The Deseret News published an editorial ("How to lead a recovery" May 26) and a My View by state senate president Wayne Niederhauser ("Utah's economic advantage continues" May 28) about the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual report, both of which are unfortunate examples of this blindness. Both the editorial and My View could be mistaken as press releases straight from ALEC's public relations department.
The editorial board went so far as to refer to ALEC's 10 taxation rules as "basic truths." From which mount have these basic truths come down? It certainly wasn't Sinai.
Instead, journalists and their editorial boards have the responsibility to dig into the data a little deeper by not just parroting ALEC's press releases. There are multiple stories at work here, and ALEC's placement of Utah at the top of the economy captures only a tiny part of that whole story.
I've closely followed ALEC ever since the big-business-backed lobbying group descended on Salt Lake City last year for their annual conference. ALEC, and its annual report, consistently looks at areas in which states are good for corporate interests, not citizen's interests. They don't factor in actual quality of life such as access to benefits, livable wages and educational opportunities. In fact, for a state to perform well in these reports, those figures need to be low.
For example, of the fives states ranked highest on the ALEC report (Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Virginia), three of them, including Utah, rank in the bottom half of all states for per-pupil education spending. Meanwhile, of the five lowest ranked states by ALEC (Minnesota, California, Illinois, New York, and Vermont), four of them place in the top half for per-pupil spending.
The report also ignores situational factors that could dramatically disrupt Utah's well-being. It overlooks the fact that the slide last month at Kennecott Copper mine means hundreds of Utahns are out of work, and it has no way of measuring the ripple effect this sudden unemployment will have on our economy.
The list continues:
Utah consistently ranks near the bottom in the U.S. for voter turnout, a key indicator for measuring citizen engagement. In fact, only 57 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in last year's election.
Children in Utah are not free from the debilitating effects of poverty. In Utah, 16 percent of our children live below the poverty level.
Invisible poverty, or that found in the suburbs, is on the increase. We have three of the top 15 fastest growing suburban poverty areas in the country.
Our air quality continues to deteriorate at a pace that could very well prohibit economic growth. Our cities frequently made the top five for worst air quality in the nation last winter.
We are throwing millions of dollars away on a losing fight for control over federal land that if the state were successful would likely be used to further benefit big business.
Seen in this light, the ALEC report is little more than a big business propaganda piece that gives our legislators and our governor cover for promoting legislation and policies that serve their donors and benefactors at the expense of the average Utah citizen. Let's not let ourselves be fooled by the shiny packaging of ALEC's new report — what's inside is much darker than it appears.
Maryann Martindale is the executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah.
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