SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday criticized what he called Washington's "shotgun approach" to slashing federal spending through sequestration but said budget cuts are necessary — just not to Hill Air Force Base.
Herbert said keeping Hill Air Force Base open is in the best interests of the nation's defense, the Air Force and taxpayers during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.
"If it's not in those three areas, we ought to reduce it or move or close it," the governor said. "I personally believe, based on the efficiencies at Hill Air Force Base, it's a very integral part of our national defense. … It has a role to play and therefore ought to remain open and viable."
Hebert is meeting over the next few days in Washington with his counterparts from around the country to talk about sequestration, the automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1 unless Congress and President Barack Obama can agree on a budget plan.
The governor said the impact of sequestration on Utah adds up to some $700 million. His staff later said the impact would be closer to some $550 million, including $500 million in defense spending.
State agencies are already planning, Herbert said, for the possibility their federal funding will disappear.
"The sad thing for many of us is this was designed to be so onerous that it would force both sides to come together and make more precise, precision-type cuts," he said. "It hasn't worked so far. I guess we could be more optimistic between now and March 1, but time is running out."
But Herbert stressed that Utah will stay on track.
"Whatever happens in Washington, D.C., our priorities don't change in Utah. We will continue to balance our budget. We will make sure we live within our means," he said. "Whether we have a little or a lot of money to spend, the prioritizations will mean education comes first."
The governor's comments come after members of Utah's congressional delegation have warned about the dire consequences of sequestration to the state, especially to the civilian workforce at Hill Air Force Base, which faces unpaid furloughs.
Herbert said federal spending must be reduced, even as he defended federal money going to Hill Air Force Base, the state's largest employer.
"Cut we must. We have a federal government that's out of control," he said. "We've got to make some tough decisions or we're going to bankrupt this country."
Herbert said the state is "not being hypocritical on this," but rather demonstrating to the federal government how to do more with less funding.
Also Thursday, the governor said he likes the state's gun laws just as they are. On Wednesday, a House committee approved HB76, which would allow Utahns to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
"Our concealed weapons permit statute has been on the books for many, many years and has served us well," he said. "It's kind of the old adage, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' that comes to my mind."
Still, Herbert said he plans to meet with Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, the sponsor of what is among the most controversial of several gun bills under consideration this session.
"I'm going to wait and not pass judgment until I've had a chance to talk to the sponsor," the governor said. "It's a little bit early to talk about vetoing or signing bills."
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