On Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama stood in the House Chamber for his fourth State of the Union speech. The tone was predictable, the rhetoric was soaring, and the delivery (once again) was flawless. But the message was disingenuous in so many ways. I was particularly taken aback by President Obama's assertion that the dozens of new programs he is advocating for are "paid for" because they don't add to existing deficits. He conveniently neglected to mention that we are borrowing 40 percent of what we spend federally, and we are in a financial death spiral as a country.
Erskine Bowles, co-chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, summed up the financial challenges before us by stating: "We face the most predictable economic crisis in history. Fortunately, it is also the most avoidable." Unfortunately, the president and Congress seem to have adopted the political philosophy of former French Prime Minister Henri Queuille, who once theorized, "Politics is the art of postponing decisions until they are no longer relevant."
On Tuesday afternoon, with little fanfare and no national media, a small group of creative professionals, advocates and legislators launched a new initiative that will help Utah prepare for a potential federal funding crisis. Financial Ready Utah, a non-profit organization led by the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants (UACPA), has spent the last several months working with legislators to prepare an "emergency preparedness" plan for state budgets. The group unveiled several new bills that will:
Create a federal funds commission to identify ways to reduce dependency on federal spending.
Establish a process to account for the potential loss of federal funds in Utah's budgeting process.
Provide transparency into all federal funds flowing into the state, including all political subdivisions.
Establish the framework to build up additional "rainy day" funds to mitigate the risk of a sudden collapse in federal spending.
Financial Ready Utah teamed up with Rep. Ken Ivory, R-St. George, who is nationally recognized for his work on budgetary transparency and newly elected Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, among others, to make these reforms happen. I am confident that as these bills progress through the legislative process, they will be fully vetted, refined and improved upon. I also believe that they will serve as model legislation for other states in the years to come.
States have ceded much of their authority and autonomy to the federal government over the last forty years. They have done so by following the siren song of easy money. For decades there seemed to be no end to the federal government's generosity. States eagerly adopted new federal programs, applied for new federal grants, advocated for federal subsidies for health care, education, welfare, disaster relief and dozens of other things. Cities, counties and political subdivisions got in on the act, hiring their own lobbyists to get their fare share of the free money. Our mindset changed as a people and we began to measure the success of our politicians based on their ability to "bring home the bacon." Few stopped to count the cost. As states, we are now addicted to federal spending. Sometimes the only way to get your hand out of a trap is to let go of the cheese.
I applaud the efforts of Financial Ready Utah and these dedicated legislators who are intent on returning Utah to self-sufficiency. I do not believe that the financial problems we face as a country will be resolved in Washington, D.C. Instead it will fall to individual states to solve their own problems. These reforms certainly point Utah in the right direction.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.