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Surplus and Sanity 

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With the current mood of the country, never mind Utah, so solidly steeped in Republican red you’d think more of us would long for the days of fiscally responsible Republican politics. Or, at the very least, fiscally responsible Republican rhetoric. Remember the old refrain of Democrats as the reckless “tax-and-spend” crowd?



Given the current administration, even fiscally responsible Democrats long for those days. Alas, even some Republicans have stopped pretending President Bush’s policies resemble anything close to a rational tax or budget policy. After all, what is the big difference between “tax-and-spend” and “cut-taxes-borrow-and-spend”? The answer: Bush’s policies are putting our country into hock faster than any Democrat could have mustered. The Bush recipe is simple: Create a gargantuan government Medicare benefit costing $795 billion over the next two years, cut taxes by billions of dollars, then start one of the most expensive wars in our nation’s history and put it all on the national credit card. If you’re extra foolhardy, you’ll also propose borrowing close to $1 trillion to pay for “personal” Social Security accounts while doing nothing to stop the imminent wrath of the alternative minimum tax on the American middle class.



Republican schmublican. Like a laboratory rat tugging the lever for another dose of an experimental drug, President Bush aches for his next blank government check.



Which brings us to the current dilemma facing our Utah Legislature. Tax policy is hardly as sexy or fun to write about with all the silly bills currently afloat up there. But let’s not forget the importance of wise budget decisions. Flush with an estimated $1 billion in surplus state funds, our vastly Republican lawmakers can’t figure out quite what to do. Thankfully, however, we’re hearing a lot of very good Republican rhetoric where money’s concerned. And I write that as a staunch Democrat. Heck, go ahead and call me a “liberal” if you want.



As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, Senate President John Valentine warned his colleagues against acting rashly whenever they see a thick wallet. Like Joseph’s dream in the Old Testament, he urged his colleagues to remember the years of plenty alongside the years of famine. He talked about discipline and responsibility. House Speaker Greg Curtis worries that, given all that dinero, they’d better give Utahns a tax cut now before temptation to spend sets in.



Meanwhile, it’s not surprising that most legislators are talking about some form of tax cut. Part of the motive is concern for lower-income people, and how we can excise, in whole or in part, Utah’s odious tax on unprepared food. The motive’s other part is old-fashioned Republican abhorrence of debt and big government.



Most Republican leaders are talking about a $230 million tax cut. Others are examining Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s proposal to cut taxes by $60 million. Given the large estimates in the growth of Utah’s public-school enrollment, however, lawmakers would do well to let go of any proposed tax cuts at all. Or, if they must, give the tax cut to those who could use the extra money most. That is, of course, low-income people hit with the sales tax on food. The proposed $75-per-person rebate program for qualifying families earning less than $40,000 annually gets low marks from people who doubt low-income families would even bother filling out the paper work, but even the rich, to a degree, must earn their tax breaks through a bit of research and paper work.



A $1 billion surplus is tempting in other ways besides the temptation to spend it. As President Bush’s policies will one day show, tax breaks can be every bit as disastrous if all they do is put government further into debt. Hopefully, the Legislature will make decisions that could teach even our president a lesson in fiscal responsibility.

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