By Aimee Winder Newton and John Dougall. The following op-ed originally appeared in the Deseret News on April 22, 2020.
As the country continues its struggle with the COVID-19 shock and isolation, Utahns have shown remarkable patience and resilience. There are countless examples of businesses, teachers and everyday Utahns stepping up to serve their neighbors and communities — pizzeria owners are feeding school kids, tech companies are offering their services for free, and manufacturers are shifting to an entirely different product line to help frontline medical providers.
The current climate highlights the challenges the next governor will face as she enters office: balancing the trifecta of protecting public health, protecting the high ground of liberty, while hastening Utah’s recovery in a responsible manner.
Clearly, steps will be taken to improve and expand testing to help identify those who are sick, while informing others as they return to work. And steps must be taken to restore our civil liberties while ensuring appropriate protections during future crises. But one of the biggest questions is, how to restart the economy? The following are steps that must be taken.
Provide targeted business assistance. The government has a duty to compensate businesses closed or restricted by government edicts. While taxpayer bailouts for bad business decisions should be opposed, we believe instilling this practice will help businesses rebound and better position the state for future pandemic shocks. Instituting favorable tax incentives and leveraging a limited portion of the budgetary reserves can provide an appropriate ‘shot in the arm’ to Utah’s businesses.
Tighten the state’s budget. Now is the time to tighten the state’s belt by cutting spending and wisely using reserves to avoid actions that impair investment and economic expansion. As part of the economic recovery, some will call to raise taxes. But now is not the time to pile more burden on the backs of crippled businesses and shellshocked individuals. We should scrutinize each department and agency to find ways to do more with less.
Eliminate regulations. Too often, government regulations act like sand in a gear, adding friction, reducing efficiency and impairing responsiveness. We need to allow businesses the nimbleness to adapt to new opportunities in the market. We should reduce the burden of tax compliance and eliminate regulations that fail to address life and safety concerns. We cannot favor special interest at the expense of consumers.
Accelerate educational opportunities. We will ensure the greatest choice in our public education system to meet the learning needs of each student. With every economic shock, Utahns look to retool skills and reboot careers. Part of that should include a comprehensive evaluation of remote work as a mainstream tool for our businesses and future workers. Our tech colleges and traditional universities must provide the opportunities for Utahns to quickly gain marketable skills in timely and convenient ways.
Reform taxes. Utah must eliminate practices where government picks business winners and losers through tax policies and tax incentive programs. While major steps have been made to make Utah’s tax system more competitive, Utahns deserve the most competitive tax system in the nation and we will work to make that a reality.
Deploy improved protocols of addressing future pandemic-like events. We will analyze the state’s response to the current pandemic in order to be better prepared for the next emergency. We will consider how to more quickly utilize a unified command through the state’s Emergency Operations Center to get teams ready and be able to have logistics operations moving quickly. The state was three weeks behind Salt Lake County’s EOC opening, and we know time is of the essence in an emergency.
Replenish reserves and reduce debt. While debt and reserves may be wisely used to cushion an economic shock, steps should be taken to promptly replenish our reserves and pay down incurred debt. This will allow flexibility and help prepare for the next economic disruption.
Now is not the time for guesswork. Now is the time for a prompt, focused effort to propel Utah’s economy forward and to reposition government to support Utahns as they face the future. Utahns have overcome serious challenges in the past. They know how to weather storms, economic and otherwise. Utah has a bright future and together we will come through this challenge stronger and more resilient.
Aimee Winder Newton is a Salt Lake County council member and a Republican candidate for Utah governor. John Dougall is the Utah state auditor and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.