Genius Panel: Utah’s Challenges in the Federal System

This week’s question: Can Utah continue to flourish if, as expected, dysfunction and gridlock continue at the federal level? How interdependent are states and the federal government?

Boyd Matheson, president, The Sutherland Institute; former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee. In looking to the future, Utah should adopt a version of Jonathan Winters’ motto, “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” Utah shouldn’t wait for, or rely on, Washington for our future success.

There is certainly a level of interdependence to Utah’s budget with the federal government providing the largest source of funds (23 percent). For the past five years the state Legislature has wisely pursued a pattern of evaluating the dependency on and sustainability of federal funding. Senators Deidre Henderson and Wayne Harper along with Representative Ken Ivory passed important legislation to reduce Utah’s dependency on federal dollars, assess risk to potential reduction of funding, and create rainy-day accounts as a contingency.

Such strategic plans should continue to be made for Utah to become less encumbered and entangled by Washington while developing more self-reliant and self-sustaining models.

Washington will continue to be dysfunctional and deeply in debt – hardly the attributes you would hope for in a future business partner. Utah should be careful not to chase short-term program dollars that come with restrictive D.C. strings attached – at the expense of hardworking Utahns who end up funding such programs and cleaning up the messes they often leave behind.

Utah is one of the great laboratories of democracy in America and regularly proves that a free-market economy, civil society and federalism are what drive freedom and create opportunity for all. We should keep it that way. Rather than wait for a dysfunctional and deeply in debt partner in Washington – Utah should go on ahead and lead the country toward a better future with elevated dialogue, enlightened public policy and engaged citizens.


W. Val Oveson, former state auditor, lieutenant governor, and National Taxpayer Advocate. Utah is less dependent on the federal government than other states because of being well managed over the years by wise state leaders, e.g. balanced budgets, rainy day funds, smart bonding program.

That said, Utah will be negatively affected by the dysfunction at the federal level. The percentage of state lands that are owned by the federal government, the percentage of the state budget that comes from federal dollars, and the power of the federal government relative to the sates, all indicate that Utah cannot prosper alone in a vacuum.  We do need to worry about federal dysfunction and do all we can to solve the problem and start working together for the benefit of all Americans.

Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake City mayor, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, and candidate for major offices. The founders never intended the rivalry between the two levels of government to go so deep. The dysfunction can be blamed on crass partisanship of both parties and the never ending bales of cash needed to get elected and survive in office.

To say, even suggest, that dysfunction cannot go deeper than now is to avoid the obvious. Trump is a joke; Hillary will win but will be faced with such a level of bitterness to rob any mandate. Solutions to immigration, a fully working health care, a strong approach to international affairs will be harder and harder to achieve. The Republican party will be left in shambles; the Democrats split by the hard movement to the left. States will have to step up. On the left solution, mandate better pay and distribute income more fairly. On the right, help us restore the dignity of community. There will be much to do in both parties. We’ve done it before. 1865 is a good reference point.


Mark Bouchard, senior managing partner, Southwest Region, CBRE, Inc. From a historical point of view the system was intended to be collaborative. However, with the passing of time and overall differences between states the “one size fits all” approach offered at the federal level has caused challenges.

Yes, Utah needs to have some concern around how the federal government and policy-making impacts Utah. These challenges have placed added pressures on state policy makers and governors as they attempt to maneuver through the federal system, ensuring that local government continues with policy independence and the appropriate level of autonomy.

Major topics such as healthcare, education and immigration, to name a few, are being debated federally with many states dissatisfied with the outcomes. I think it’s important for Utahns to send clear messages to our federal delegation that “state’s rights” to govern themselves is the better and more sensible solution to good policy making around important issues.

This issue may never be more important than the current times in which we find ourselves.

Nolan Karras, former Utah House speaker, candidate for governor, Board of Regents chair, and public education reformer. Someone once told me not to be afraid of Congress — they come and go; but to be afraid of the federal bureaucracy that grows and grows without control.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the federal deficit is troubling now and will get worse as the feds shove responsibilities down to the local governments where leaders must face the taxpayers. Both presidential candidates seem to be bent on increasing the deficit. While in the short-run, fiscal stimulus may help, in the long-run we are headed to a Japan-type scenario with no growth and, as a result, even bigger deficits.  Default will be inevitable and it will come with low rates for savers (sound familiar), inflation and restructuring…”You need to be paid; we will pay you in more debt”. Sorry, it is not a pretty picture in my mind.

LaVarr Webb. The federal government is dysfunctional because it is trying to do too much, trying to oversee every aspect of every American life from cradle to grave, trying to deliver far more than it is capable of delivering. Things won’t get better until the federal government downsizes and allows state and local governments to assume their proper roles in the federal system.

However, no one is smart enough to sort out the tangled mess of federal-state relationships, the byzantine mish-mash of regulations, funding, and service delivery that govern every element of life. Thus, the goal should be to restore tools to state governments so they have the ability to push back against federal encroachments, as the founders clearly intended. That would allow, over time, a proper balance to be achieved. Restoring those tools ought to be the focus of goal of governors and state legislators.