Bob Bernick Jr.: Legislature shouldn't bite federal hand that feeds Utah
Conservative Utahns can be a suspicious lot. Especially when it comes to government.
I suppose considering the state's history, that's understandable.
Except for the Civil War, early Utah settlers are one of the few groups in the U.S. that were actually marched upon by federal troops.
Fort Douglas was built on the foothills overlooking Salt Lake City — an actual offensive position over the residents.
Conservative Utahns trust the federal government even less than they do state and local governments.
And with Democrats holding the White House and both houses of Congress, well, you aren't going to see much respect for the feds here.
Oh, we'll take federal money. It was federal stimulus money that saved the Legislature's bacon last year. Those one-time funds kept 15 percent state program cutbacks to around 5 percent or 6 percent.
But that didn't stop conservative legislators from complaining about federal spending in the 2009 Legislature.
I admit I smiled a bit when, late last year, an open House GOP caucus was discussing the state's new dire financial situation, if any federal stimulus money was left over for 2010, or was any new stimulus money coming. I don't say that Utah should have rejected that federal cash. Our citizens are going to have to deal with the debt; we might as well get some of the benefit. But why not just take the cash and be silent?
Hey, you might even say "thanks."
But thanking the federal government, that's not in the conservative lexicon.
Now the Utah Legislature, two-thirds controlled by Republicans in both houses, will look to some "states' rights" issue that very well could land the state in federal court.
One bill has been proposed that would specifically say that any gun manufactured in Utah, sold in Utah and used in Utah could not fall under any federal gun control laws.
Over time, federal officials have used the interstate commerce article in the U.S. Constitution to regulate all kinds of things, under the argument that if something crosses state lines, then it falls under federal control. Montana passed a similar gun law and is now in court over it.
There will likely be other states' rights bills before the Utah Legislature when it convenes its general session Jan. 25.
It's clear that over time the federal government has grown larger, more powerful and taken over areas that the Founding Fathers never imagined, nor likely would have approved of. And all Americans should stand up and fight for rights they believe have been or will be taken from them by government — government at any level.
But in these tough times, should we really be spending time, and especially state resources, on fights we seem to want to pick?
Utahns want jobs. They want a better economy, better public education and less costly higher education. We want to live safely in our neighborhoods. And how about cleaning up this terrible air in our wintertime valleys?
Last week Provo had the worst air quality in the United States, twice as bad as Los Angeles' air on the same day. How sad is that?
In legislative election years, one sees more so-called "message" bills — bills aimed at letting certain constituencies know that legislators are looking out after their special issues. Often, such bills take time to debate, raise the public's ire on one side or the other and, even if passed, have little real effect.
Sometimes, such bills end up costing the state money as they are battled over in the courts.
The federal programs some conservatives call socialism — Social Security, Medicare, State Children's Health Insurance Program — are much loved by most Utahns.
Our congressmen voted for some of these programs, and likely would never dare vote to eliminate them.
A former Utah House GOP speaker has said that one of his proudest achievements was to fully fund SCHIP at the state level, so that any low-income Utah child could get in the federal health insurance program.
We see what the lack of an efficient government is meaning to the people of Haiti today. We saw what poor government reaction meant to New Orleans residents several years ago.
It would be nice if Utah legislators kept their eyes on the critical problems of the state this general session.