Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Mitt Romney gives his keynote speech at the 2018 Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit at the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.

This week is the beginning of a major vortex in Utah politics. The Utah Legislature commences Monday, Mitt Romney is likely to announce within days — and we may get more snow — hopefully. We comment on all things not meteorological.

What will be the overriding issues for legislators this session?

Pignanelli: "The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Various forms of boogeymen have haunted humans for thousands of years, influencing emotions and reactions. For many Utah lawmakers, these terrors manifest themselves through ballot initiatives, although not one has passed in almost 20 years. The presence of six dreaded petition efforts will impact legislative deliberations in education funding, allowing medical marijuana, amending party nomination procedures and Medicaid expansion (but not reapportionment).

Massive changes to transportation — funding and delivery — will be reviewed. Last year, analysts provided incredible documentation to lawmakers of needed changes to business taxes to keep Utah competitive in corporate recruitment.

So this will be a nuts-and-bolts session of responding to real or perceived public emotions exhibited through initiatives. Boogeymen are warned!

Webb: Lawmakers will grapple with federal and state tax reform as their top priority. They will enjoy a modest amount of new revenue, but it won’t amount to much if they devote most new money to education — as they should. They will try to modernize Utah’s out-of-date tax structure and make it relevant to the new economy by broadening the tax base, while reducing rates to keep revenue neutral.

That will be very difficult because in the shuffle there will be winners and losers who won’t care as much about the big picture of tax modernization as tax hits to their own businesses. Tax reform is always harder in practice than in theory. There will also be a “user fee” theme in this session, with lawmakers attempting to require those who use services, such as transportation, to pay a large share of the costs. That could mean higher gas taxes and some limited toll roads (such as up Little Cottonwood Canyon). A restructuring of Utah Transit Authority is also likely.

Gov. Mitt Romney gave an optimistic and well-received speech at the Salt Lake Chamber’s economic summit last week. What can Utahns expect from Romney?

Pignanelli: Washington, D.C., is engaged in an important debate. Did the president use "hole" or "house" immediately after a derogatory word when describing other countries? Thus, many Utahns view Romney as badly needed parental supervision to this circus. Similarly, media pundits will paint him as the GOP "anti-Trump," guaranteeing national attention on his campaign.

Romney is cleverly tapping local emotional chords of how the nation can learn from Utah in governance, management, culture and lifestyle. As a longtime true believer of the "Utah way," I am pleased a former governor of Massachusetts is a fellow advocate of this phenomenon, albeit with a national stage.

Romney expressed to the Salt Lake Chamber that his business peers are concerned about climate change and manufacturing. This is a clear sign that he is willing to reflect a more global view of America's responsibility. For a state that needs free trade, this bodes well.

Webb: The theme of Romney’s campaign was clearly articulated: What Utah, a model of sanity and good management, can teach dysfunctional Washington. Not a bad theme. Romney is going to have to balance being, in a real sense, a national senator, attracting interest and visibility across the country, while also dealing with Utah issues and maintaining his connections and support at home.

His presentation at the chamber event was masterful and touching. I think he will be a terrific senator. However, it is unfathomable to me why Romney is still playing footsie and not saying that he’s running. He’s had many months to decide. He doesn’t need to have his campaign all geared up before he makes the commitment. All he has to do is say three little words: “Yes, I’m running.” That ends all the speculation, the maneuvering, the intrigue. It’s a silly game he’s playing.

Just when Americans thought it couldn't get any weirder in Washington, D.C., President Trump triggered a meltdown by using vulgarity in describing certain countries. What is the local fallout?

Pignanelli: No Mormon would ever make such statements. (As a Gentile, I say what others cannot.) One of the many reasons why Utah is wonderful is the fact that every year, thousands of LDS faithful come home from serving missions in various countries. They experience wonderful things about the people to whom they have been proselytizing. Thus, Utah officials must mirror their constituents and distance themselves from these awful descriptions.

Webb: To her credit, Congresswoman Mia Love, whose parents emigrated from Haiti, reacted forcefully to Trump’s regrettable comments. Utahns and Americans, once again, must decide if they are willing to separate Trump’s policy agenda and successes from his flawed personality and tone-deaf utterances. Some people, including some Republicans, can’t do it. Trump’s erraticism and boorishness are too much, and they’re willing to sacrifice conservative policy achievements because they hate Trump.

Comment on this story

Personally, I don’t like Trump’s behavior, and I disagree with him on immigration and international trade, but I give him and the Republican Congress credit for some excellent policy achievements. I’m not willing to dump Trump if it means turning the country over to Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders and their leftist policies. Trump isn’t going anywhere, and I doubt he’s going to change. So what’s worse for the country — a vulgar Trump, or higher taxes, bigger government, more regulation and a weaker military with the Democrats in charge?

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: [email protected] 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 the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: [email protected]