WASHINGTON — Utah is the best-managed state in the country, based on a report card of state governments released Monday.

The Pew Center on States Government Performance Project for 2008 gave Utah an overall "A minus" for how the state government manages information, people, money and infrastructure. Virginia and Washington also received high scores, but Utah came out on top.

"Utah manages itself with savvy business acumen," according to the report. "Financial decisions are made wisely with an eye toward return on investment and long-term performance in all facets of state government."

Peter Harkness, editor and publisher of Governing Magazine, which published the report, said the fact Utah's government is "homogenous" — made up mainly of Republicans — helps, but the report found that "the level of coordination between the governor's office and the Legislature goes beyond party loyalty."

Harkness said at the report's release in Washington Monday that Utah's officials are constantly asked what they do to make the government work so well.

"I think people from Utah are talked out at this point," said Harkness, who coincidentally is a part-time Utah resident with a house in Park City. He said Utah citizens are more open about their expectations from their state government, and politicians respond to it.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the report can reassure citizens that "their tax dollar is used right."

"Utah taxpayers are definitely getting the best bang for their buck," Huntsman said. "We continue to work like never before to cross boundaries in state government to create an infrastructure that is effective and efficient."

Huntsman credited a "visionary" management style in the state that exists not only in the governor's office, but also in "all layers of leadership."

He said giving the different state offices the ability to evaluate their own performance and quantify how they are doing is a benefit for the taxpayers.

"People know that what they are doing actually matters," Huntsman said of the state employees.

He said the high grade is not only good news for taxpayers, but can also be a good economic tool. Huntsman said Utah already has a trained work force, highly skilled labor, and leading colleges and universities, but a top-rated government also can be attractive to business.

The report honed in on the fact Utah puts money aside for state employee post-retirement health care, while other states seem to be ignoring the problem. It also mentioned the state's real-time financial tracking system that supplies up-to-the-minute data on where taxpayers' dollars go.

The report highlights Utah's "Walk the Talk" program that allows employees to give a manager an index card with praise for another employee that helps advance the goals of the agency. It goes into a drawing for a prize.

The "Grading the States" report card was the fourth in a series of assessments issued by Pew's Government Performance Project and Governing Magazine. The last was released in 2005, where Utah also received a high score.

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