Commentary: Utah is doing great, so should it decline federal relief money?

The federal government is flat broke, but is still borrowing and spending historic, unfathomable amounts of money. It is showering individuals, businesses, local governments and state governments with “free” cash.

In nearly 50 years of watching politics I’ve never seen such reckless spending, and I strongly oppose it. Especially because the economy would recover without the stimulus.

And that raises a question: Should Utah, which really doesn’t need the money, decline the federal relief funding?

No, Utah should take the money, estimated to be $1.5 billion to the state and $1 billion to local governments, and invest it wisely. As much as I deplore the federal profligacy, I’m not into making symbolic gestures. If Utah declined the money it wouldn’t reduce deficit spending one iota. The money would just go elsewhere.

Perhaps if Utah could get some concession for refusing the money, like less regulation or an agreement to run some programs without federal interference, the tradeoff might make sense. But that’s not going to happen, so Utah should take the money. 

My sentiment is shared by Utah legislative leaders. House Speaker Brad Wilson told the Deseret News: “We will take our fair share of the funding and we will use it to the benefit of the state as much as we possibly can.”

He added: “But I think they have lost their minds in Washington, D.C. Who in the world is going to pay for all of this and how are we going to pay for it? … Utah is in such good financial shape right now that we’d be fine without this money, but we’ll use it to the highest and best use we can.”

Senate Pres. Stuart Adams told the newspaper that he’s also “really concerned” about inflation and rising interest rates, so “we need to think long term, not short term.”

Wilson said though Utah doesn’t necessarily need the stimulus money, it will take it so Congress isn’t “rewarding bad behavior” from states that aren’t as fiscally responsible as Utah.

So take the one-time money. Don’t use it to increase agency budgets or start new programs. Invest it in infrastructure projects that will benefit the state decades into the future.

Don’t become addicted to federal money. The decadence can’t last forever. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, state leaders must begin to prepare for the day when the insanity ends and the inevitable reckoning begins.