ST. GEORGE — Candidates in three local election races for Utah Legislature seats weighed in on a variety of topics during Monday night’s candidate forum hosted and conducted by Dixie State University’s Institute of Politics and Public Affairs, along with the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president and CEO Don Willie moderated the hourlong event, which was conducted virtually, with each of the six candidates participating from their own homes.
The event featured three Republican incumbents and their respective Democrat challengers, namely Sen. Don Ipson of Utah Senate District 29 and challenger Chuck Goode; Rep. Walt Brooks of House District 75 and challenger Rebecca Sullivan; and Rep. Lowry Snow of House District 74 and challenger Kenzie Carter.
Following the candidate introductions, the candidates were each given the opportunity to respond to various questions posed by the moderator.
“I feel like we need to start prioritizing the projects our tax dollars fund, and I think that’s a good way to start to reconcile our budget,” Carter said as she addressed the first topic of the evening.
Carter suggested the state’s so-called “rainy day” emergency fund could be used for current pressing needs.
“Education continues to be underfunded,” she said. “And we have 82,000 children who lack health care coverage.”
“We need to consider short-term and long-term needs,” she added. “We need to put a stop to unproductive and self-serving projects such as the continuous legal battles over public lands, the planning of projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline, and more recently, the purchase of the hydroxychloroquine earlier this year, and the failed tax credit initiative concerning the Sevier Lake Potash. These are just a few examples of when the legislative process has failed.”
Carter said tax dollars and other resources shouldn’t be wasted on overturning initiatives and on pursuing nonviable projects.
“We need a budget that benefits the many, not just the few like we’ve been experiencing,” she said.
Snow then responded by saying it would be unwise to dip into the state’s emergency fund.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the rainy day fund,” he said. “But that fund is for one time only. That’s not for ongoing funding or ongoing operations of the state. It’s a mistake to think that that’s available.”
Snow also lauded Utah’s economic resilience in the face of the pandemic, even as he acknowledged future decreases in the state budget are likely.
“We anticipate a drop in revenues,” Snow said. “But in Utah, our economy has been rebounding. As I said, we lead the nation right now in our unemployment rate. The future remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful that as we obtain a vaccine, and as we move forward through this COVID crisis, that our economy remains strong. And if our economy remains strong, then our revenues will be there.”
“Notwithstanding that, I think we have to plan for the worst,” Snow added, saying he and other legislators would continue to look for ways to trim the budget. “We also took a real hard look at what items needed to be cut, we tightened our belts, we made reductions, and we will continue to do that,” he said.
In his comments, Rep. Brooks said education was the one area that didn’t get cut in this year’s state budget.
“Every single department in the state took a cut except education because they are our priority,” Brooks said. “They’re the ones that actually saw an increase. So last year was one of the best years that they’ve ever seen in funding, and we were able still to give them that plus growth this year. So we prioritize education as a top priority.”
Brooks said having a balanced budget helps the state stay on track economically.
“We manage the state like we do our own house,” he said. “We have a budget. We stay within that budget. And we make sure that by following these simple principles, we can keep our economy where it’s at, and I think that’s why we are leading the nation.”
Sullivan addressed one of the general election ballot’s proposed constitutional amendments during her response, saying its passage would take away much-needed money from public education.
“I’d like to talk constitutional amendment G, that would allow the legislature to use revenue from income tax that is dedicated solely to schools to be used to support children and to support individuals with a disability, which is already funded to the tune of about $600 million through other means,” she said, adding, “If we pass this amendment, it will take money from our schools that are already woefully underfunded.”
Goode said the state needs to adjust some of its key budgetary priorities.
“We really need to change priorities and measure our success in Utah, much more about the well-being of the people,” he said.
Along those lines, Goode said high-speed internet access should be expanded, especially in rural areas.
“Education, especially now with a pandemic, when we’re having to do everything digitally, needs much more revenue,” he said. “We need to really roll out broadband for our rural areas. Everybody’s staying home and being educated at home, even getting their health care from home. So, I think we need to change our priorities on the budget very much.”
“I guess I’m the guy you blame,” responded Ipson, noting that he serves as the vice-chair of executive appropriations in the state Senate. “But, you know, the funding for the 2020 session, all the new money had to be taken off the table because of COVID. The revenue wasn’t going to be there.”
Ipson then lauded the efforts made by educators statewide during the pandemic and said that efforts to expand rural internet access have already been happening via the Utah Education Network.
“Our teachers do an incredible job teaching our children,” he said. “The UEN has a backbone that has put the internet into our rural schools. We have it’s incredible what they’ve been able to do. We’ve been able to get some COVID money to make that better.”
For the remainder of the hour, the candidates took turns addressing several other issues, including the state’s COVID-19 response, the governor’s emergency declarations, education funding, economic development, removing unnecessary business regulations, growth and water needs, and proposed constitutional Amendment C.
The Amendment C question was the only topic that all the participants agreed on, saying that Utah should remove the reference to slavery and involuntary servitude from its state constitution.
“I agree with everyone else that there’s not much of the conversation that needs to be had,” Carter said. “The Utah Constitution was written in 1894, and I think as a society, we’ve progressed beyond the ideals of slavery and involuntary servitude. By this amendment, we can move one step closer to breaking down the barriers of systemic and institutional racism.”
To watch a recording of the entire event on the DSU Institute of Politics Facebook page, click here.
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