"If we can get the economy right, everything else takes care of itself. It's the rising tide that lifts all boats." So said Gov. Gary Herbert, speaking before Park City real estate agents in 2011. It may be the reason his administration seems to put corporate interest above the general public’s interest.
The governor and legislators take pride in touting Utah as the best-managed state in the union, at least when it comes to promoting business development; but it may be at the expense of the general public’s interest. Our elected state leaders have shown little interest in promoting the social and economic health of all Utahns in keeping with our state’s value of compassion, especially for those in need.
Legislators quickly pass laws to give tax-break incentives and require fewer regulations, among other accommodations, for corporations — funding hotels, moving the prison for developers and eagerly accepting federal money for highways. However, for two years the Legislature has refused to support the governor in helping 111,000 Utahns in need of health care because it calls for federal money.
Some lawmakers accuse the poor of “feeding at the public trough”; yet, when corporations receive money, it’s called “incentives.” The poor are put through a means test or work requirements; yet, there are no such demands for corporate CEOs.
Income inequality in Utah has widened between the rich and poor, according to the 2013 Utah Foundation study, “Climbing Toward the American Dream: A Second Analysis of Economic Mobility in Utah.” But who cares?
Furthermore, income mobility for Utahns overall has decreased in recent years. The study found that “the most recent nine-year period saw an 11 percentile point increase in people who were ‘downwardly mobile,’ increasing to 39 percent of the population.” Pam Perlich, research economist at the University of Utah, also noted: “Over time, income inequality has increased both in Utah and the nation.”
A growing economy no longer lifts all boats. The link between rising productivity, growing jobs and higher living standards has de-coupled, according to MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's book, "Race Against The Machine." The 1950s were the happy times when the economy, productivity, GDP, job growth and living standard were all up. It was a time when a rising tide lifted all boats. Then along came the 2000s, when productivity continued to rise but job growth and the median income started to decline.
The new digital technological revolution forces us to change our way of thinking that a good economy lifts all boats. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to advance policies that promote the general welfare of all Utahns that reflect the common values of our Utah society, rich and poor. It starts with a commitment to our values of compassion and helping those in need while respecting the dignity of every individual.
Leaders who yield to the powerful corporate interest in our society appear content to be good managers in running an efficient state government, often by committees that protect the status quo. In today’s rapidly changing world, we need leaders who are willing to take a risk; simply managing is no longer an option. We need leaders who inspire, offer a vision and are willing to use their political capital for the public interest, not for personal or political gain. Come November, we have a choice.
John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: [email protected]