Bob Bernick’s notebook: Thank goodness Utah’s lawmakers don’t act like Congress

bernick mugAs a divided Congress and GOP President Donald Trump stumble towards no budget compromise, and part of the U.S. government is closed, one can only be pleased with how Utah state government is working these days.

Congress is dysfunctional.

The president is acting like a spoiled child who doesn’t get his $5 billion toy wall – walking out of a meeting with congressmen and women.

The federal government is hundreds of billions of dollars in debt this year – owing more than $3 trillion overall.

Meanwhile, in Utah we have a Legislature that by and large works well with the governor.

The state has more than $1 billion in revenue surpluses this year, with a AAA bond rating and little debt overall.

We have well over half a billion in rainy day funds, ready to supplement our state budget when hard economic times come.

So, why is it that the federal government is such a mess and Utah’s government is so responsible?

Part of it, no doubt, is that our part-time lawmakers and full-time governors have been responsible people – careful watchdogs of the taxpayers’ monies.

But it is also because we have financial laws that we obey.

We can’t deficit spend, as the federal government can.

We can’t raid our state retirement funds, “borrowing” operation monies from future state employee pensions.

And while there is gerrymandering going on to protect legislative incumbents, we also have a relatively large turnover in our state representatives and senators.

No 42-year incumbents in the Utah Legislature, like Orrin Hatch who has just left the U.S. Senate.


In no small degree because lawmakers themselves see their time in the Legislature as service – they don’t get paid that much, the “part-time” work is really almost full-time, meaning legislators are giving up time that could be spent with family and growing their personal business careers.

At more than $180,000 a year, U.S. congressmen and women can live relatively high on the hog.

They get great benefits, including federal retirement and health care that pays for about everything – all provided by their own votes in Congress.

At $15,000 a year, Utah legislators can’t live on their state salaries – the 45-day general session usually means take-home pay cuts for some members. They do get some retirement if they serve ten years. They get the regular state employee health insurance, which is good, but not the top-flight stuff Congress sees.

By law, the Utah Legislature must pass a balanced budget.

Not only doesn’t Congress need to pass a balanced budget (they haven’t done so for generations), they can’t seem to pass a budget at all – even when they had Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a GOP president.

Thus the current partial federal government shutdown.

It is a sad state of affairs, and all 538 members of Congress should be ashamed of themselves.

Trump should also be, but I honestly think the man is beyond being ashamed at anything he does.

So, when you read in and elsewhere about battles in the upcoming 2019 Legislature – maybe even the Republican majority facing off against GOP Gov. Gary Herbert over tax cuts and such, remember also how well state government works in Utah.

When this session ends in early March, there will be a balanced state budget.

There will be some kind of tax cuts for citizens.

And there will be surpluses in the bank for the economic rainy day that will come to the Beehive State sooner or later.

And if you happen to chance upon your U.S. senator or representative, you should say, “Shame, Shame, Shame.”