The Legislature is rolling along, beginning its third week tomorrow. As usual, it faces a potpourri of issues.
Should the Legislature eliminate the requirement to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon?
Pignanelli: "We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected." — Henry David Thoreau
Two years ago, our firm co-sponsored a concealed weapon course for friends and clients. Thus, I attended out of a sense of obligation — and curiosity. I half expected to endure screeches about Obama and screams to hoard weapons in anticipation of the impending apocalypse. My actual experience was vastly different.
Our instructor — Clark Aposhian (Utah's leading gun rights advocate) — provided several hours of thoughtful guidance about weapons. He emphasized common-sense safety while directing the participants through a number of situations. This city boy garnered more practical benefits in one evening with Aposhian than most of my law school courses provided in a semester. Many of the participants were experienced gun owners who also found the class informative.
The concealed weapons permit provides an excellent opportunity to initiate, or reaffirm, safe behavior for owners and non-owners. The course should not be canceled but instead promoted.
Webb: It's unfortunate that tragic school shootings have triggered enormous battles over gun rights across the country. In reality, overall violence has declined dramatically nationally and in most states. As usual, folks on both extremes are using the events to further their own agendas. Few of the proposals would do anything to reduce gun violence.
It would be silly to ban certain guns just because they look scary. President Barrack Obama and congressional Democrats have ignited perhaps the biggest gun-buying spree ever. They want fewer guns. Now, thanks to them, we have more guns — 300 million in the U.S., by some estimates.
On the other extreme, we don't need to allow anyone, any time, to carry a concealed weapon. The Utah concealed carry law works just fine. It's not a burden to get a permit if even Frank can get one. Unfortunately, the debate is distracting Congress from things that have a far bigger impact on society.
The Wasatch Front's disgusting air is sparking anger and frustration. Elected officials, especially the governor, are receiving the brunt of the criticism. Can the governor and Legislature do anything meaningful to clean up the air?
Pignanelli: Utah's peak inversion season usually coincides with the legislative session, but this coincidence has not compelled significant action by state officials — until recently. There is now movement to decrease pollutants caused by transportation activities. Rep. Greg Hughes, in his capacity as Chairman of the Utah Transit Authority, has pushed the agency to obtain a number of natural gas powered buses. This is a big deal because trucks and buses are the biggest pollutants. Representatives Jack Draxler and Lowry Snow (who owns a natural gas vehicle) are offering tax incentive legislation for clean fuel vehicles. The Herbert administration is moving the state fleet toward natural gas consumption. An unknown hero is former Gov. Jon Huntsman, who instituted natural gas outlets along the I-15 corridor. Utahns frustrated with dirty air are having an impact.
Webb: Every time you or I turn on a light, talk on a cellphone, or drive to the grocery store we're contributing to dirty air. Given Wasatch Front geography and atmospherics, a couple million people doing simple things during an inversion adds up to dirty air, especially with snow on the ground.
It's easy to blast Utah's leaders, but we're all culprits. We all want someone, somehow, to clean up the air. But most of us aren't willing to make personal sacrifices. That's what's required. I enjoyed one writer who aimed nasty barbs at the governor but admitted she didn't take public transit because it was too "inconvenient." We ought to be taking public transit even if it takes a little effort. We'd prefer that someone else make the sacrifice — like workers at oil refineries who would lose wages if we shut them down. This is a tough problem. The easy stuff has been done.
Should the Legislature restore the sales tax on food?
Pignanelli: Sales tax on food is regressive and hurts the working families that do not qualify for food stamps. Corporations and self-employed businessmen/businesswomen (like me) legally and appropriately reduce their tax burdens by deducting the costs of high calorie meals at expensive fancy restaurants. Yet, families that purchase the healthy elements of a balanced meal at a grocery store are rewarded for their efforts — with a tax. I believe the Legislature understands this disparity and will ignore the calls to increase the sales tax on food.
Webb: I support a balanced, stable, low-burden tax system that promotes free enterprise while providing for necessary government services. Therefore, I strongly support restoring the state sales tax on food while lowering the overall state rate to maintain revenue neutrality. Everyone will win, especially low-income people. They get a double tax break by paying lower sales taxes on everything they buy, while also receiving a refund for the food sales tax they pay. They come out way ahead.
We get a broader-based, fairer and more stable overall tax system, helping avoid dramatic fluctuations when economic conditions change — without hurting anyone. What's not to like?
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.