Despite the somber backdrop of impending war in the Middle East and a looming national recession, Gov. Norm Bangerter's State of the State message to the 1991 Utah Legislature Monday night was decidedly upbeat and full of optimism - offering a sense of accomplishment tempered with caution.
Emphasizing that Utah is enjoying economic surpluses, an expanding job market, and - for the first time in many years - real growth in every major state industrial sector, the governor noted that lawmakers were in a position to deal with the admitted challenges that lie ahead.This is true, but economic good times are not the same as being able to do everything that people would like, or even everything that the state needs. Significantly more money is planned by Bangerter for human services and education, yet it already is clear the spending will fall short of perceived needs.
Educators and officials dealing with human services already have declared that each area needs $100 million and more in new new funding. Strong arguments can be made in both cases, but that level of funding is highly unlikely.
As Bangerter pointed out, the state must balance its needs with what taxpayers can afford. And as he also cautioned, if the national recession deepens and persists, Utah will soon feel the pain. It would only be prudent to take this possibility into account when planning new programs.
Most of what the governor said in his 20-minute address did not break new ground. The address was low-key, as is Bangerter's style, and was accepted in relatively quiet fashion by lawmakers. Perhaps the dark mood of possible war - mentioned several times by the governor - put a damper on enthusiastic responses.
The governor talked about a number of programs that had been mentioned previously. These familiar subjects are only some highlights of the governor's larger $3.5 billion budget and administrative program.
Perhaps the keenest attention was paid to Bangerter's comments on abortion. The Legislature is facing an emotional debate on that issue as a tough and sweeping anti-abortion law - drafted by a state task force - will be introduced during the session.
The governor, in his strongest language of the speech, called for protecting the sanctity of the born and unborn. At the same time, he said any abortion measure must contain exceptions for cases involving incest or rape, when the mother-to-be's life or health is in jeopardy, or when the fetus is know to be so damaged that it cannot survive beyond birth.
He acknowledged that these exceptions might be abused by some, but vowed that he would veto any abortion bill that did not contain such exemptions. A promise to veto a bill before it is debated by the Legislature marked a first by the governor.
Bangerter made it clear he would like authority for controlling abortion to be returned to the states but said there was no indication that the U.S. Supreme Court was ready for a dramatic reversal of present law. He said the state cannot waste time and resources in making a dramatic gesture that is sure to fail and any such failing gesture would not save one life.
He said the state can be justified in making some effort to alter the current law in limited ways that might be approved by a changing court.
Above all, he issued a plea for those in the abortion debate to temper their rhetoric as they address the issue, saying that Utahns can deal with diversity of opinion with civility. That is excellent advice.
As a state-of-the-state address, it was optimistic, balanced, reasoned and careful. If the Legislature can be the same in the weeks ahead, Utahns will be well served.