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Government Spending and Citizen Responsibility

Picture of Carolyn Phippen

Carolyn Phippen

Carolyn is the leader of Utah Citizens for the Constitution.

The State of Utah recently released a report reflecting a revenue shortfall for the just ended fiscal year of $130 million, which is the equivalent of the yearly average salary of over 2,300 Utahns. In the big scheme of things, it may seem small. In reality, for those of us paying the bills, it is quite significant.


As most of us are aware, our state is unable to run a deficit, basically leaving leaders with only a few options: raise taxes, reduce spending, or draw down the rainy day fund. We find ourselves in this position while our state spending has increased a whopping 170 percent in the past decade, and over 200 percent when factoring in federal dollars. 


During that same period, federal debt doubled from nearly $17 trillion to $33 trillion and is expected to grow at a rate of over $5 billion per day for the next ten years. I believe that is on the optimistic side. By the way, this is apparently the signal in Washington to press harder on the gas pedal, as the deficit itself is set to double this year over last.  


Meanwhile, Americans are enjoying the highest rates of inflation in over a generation. Skyrocketing food and fuel prices are pushing many over the edge financially, and government central planning is making the problems far worse. Young people are being priced out of homes and credit card debt has surpassed $1 trillion for the first time ever. Big banks are trying to sell off many of their commercial real estate loans and $1.5 trillion will be up for refinancing in the next three years as borrowers face significantly higher interest rates and declining property values. Good luck with that.


All of this is to say that we had better be getting serious, both personally and in public budgets, about preparing for a rocky road ahead. And we’d better figure out how to fix the behavior that has brought us here.


Until we start holding our elected representatives accountable for out-of-control spending and ever growing and overreaching government, we will continue getting more of the same. The pressures placed on lawmakers to support the continued looting of the Treasury for the benefit of a few lobbyists and interest groups is simply too great. Unless we are asking important questions about constitutional authority and the proper role of government, most of those we elect certainly won’t be.


Ultimately, this is on us.


Remember just a few years ago when the Utah Legislature passed a tax “reform” that hurt many working Utah families, loaded with carveouts for industries with really aggressive lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Food and fuel taxes were going way up, and whole new categories of previously untaxed purchases were going to now be taxed. The whole package, we were told, would allow for more consistency in tax receipts for the government. The state government that, need I reiterate, is now spending over 200 percent more than it was a mere ten years ago.


After huge public outcry in opposition to the proposal, the Legislature did what legislatures do when facing an upset and angry public – a PR campaign with our tax dollars. While the bill was initially pulled during the session, members spent the spring and summer traveling around the state, holding meetings to convince members of the public that they should want these changes. I doubt any minds were changed in the process. The bill then came back in a special session late in the year and was passed. 


Thanks to an active and engaged citizenry, and after great effort was made to gather enough signatures to put the question on the ballot, and only then, did the Legislature repeal the measure. There had already been a groundswell of public opposition while the bill was being formulated and negotiated, with little impact. What changed? Only the imminent threat of action, legitimized when those fighting the bill reached the signature threshold that would allow the people to decide. Nothing else had had an impact.


Many of our elected representatives in Washington, just like too many here at home, are all too easily swayed by the narratives of leadership that tell them the sky will fall if they don’t continue to protect the status quo. They pretend as though we can continue kicking this wildly irresponsible $33 trillion debt and $160 trillion unfunded liability obligation down the road indefinitely because … we have so far and it seems to have worked. And after all, it keeps getting them elected, so what’s the downside?


Finally, the America people are waking up to the real and growing downside. But to stand against the status quo will require courage. It will require strategy. It will require us to build coalitions. It will require us to care more about long-term successes than short-term wins. All of those things are difficult in politics, but especially when the media and the establishment will fight it every step of the way.


But we aren’t living in 1996. We no longer have the luxury of going along to get along, no matter the cost to the American people. The realities of the choices made in Washington for decades are clearly coming home to roost. We are living in a time where leadership, real and difficult and trying leadership, is what matters most. The people we choose to represent us in government, and the expectations we place on them, will tell us everything about who we are as a people. And will be indicative of our worthiness to continue enjoying the fruits produced by those who sacrificed so much to create for their posterity the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world.


Only time will tell if we are worthy of it.



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