But Cato notes the state budget grew by almost 7 percent in 2015 and more than 9 percent in 2016. And state government employment "has soared under Herbert, growing a remarkable 20 percent since he took office in mid-2009."
So who is right? To some degree, both are.
The Cato numbers, based on U.S. Census data, include schoolteachers among the ranks of state employees. With teachers included, the number of state government workers grew from 64,100 when Herbert took office in 2009, peaked at 80,600 in April of this year, and has dipped to 74,700 in the most recent report in August.
But if teachers are not included, the state workforce stood at 32,700 when Herbert took office and is at 30,600 today. And given the state's population growth — from 2.72 million people to 2.94 million today — the number of state workers per 1,000 residents has dipped from 12 to 10 during Herbert's time in office.
Cato also dings Herbert for tax increases that were approved in 2015, including a gas tax hike which boosted costs by $75 million a year and a statewide property tax hike designed to help mostly rural and poor school districts that expanded tax collections by a similar amount.
The governor proposed a tax on e-cigarettes, as well, but the Legislature did not adopt the proposal.
Connor Boyack, president of the Utah-based libertarian policy organization the Libertas Institute, said Herbert should have blocked the tax hikes and that the Legislature, which passed them, also bears part of the blame.
"Rather than cutting spending on unnecessary programs and bloated bureaucracy, elected officials in Utah have proven themselves all too willing to take more money from hardworking families struggling to make ends meet," Boyack said. "Our low position should give public officials — and the voters who elect them — serious pause as to whether Utah is actually the conservative state we like to call it."
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @RobertGehrke