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Fact-checking Huntsman on his record in Utah

Published June 25, 2011 11:44 pm

Politics • A review examines tax cuts, stimulus, cap and trade and the individual mandate.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Columbia, S.C. • At every campaign stop, presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. harks back to his years as Utah governor. He cites a record of cutting taxes, increasing jobs and keeping the state afloat during an economic depression.

"Take a look at my record," Huntsman said outside the Exeter, N.H.,Town Hall this week after being questioned about charges that he's flip-flopped on positions. "I'm running on my record. … It's there for everyone to see."

Democrats — and at least one fellow Republican rival — are attempting to undercut Huntsman's presidential bid by labeling him as someone whose positions shift with the political wind. Huntsman dismisses the notion.

"People are going to make that decision over time," Huntsman said. "I think they're going to look carefully at what we've done as governor of a state and how that applies to the real world."

A review of his record indicates that Huntsman's presidential pitch is right on some things, while his talking points omit or dance around some undesirable details.

Tax cuts• "We cut taxes, we flattened the rates, we balanced the budget," Huntsman says in his stump speech, and he's right.

Under Huntsman's administration, Utah passed the largest tax-reform package in the state's history, a $225 million cut. The state also passed a quasi-flat tax that still allowed for deductions for mortgage interest and children.

Stimulus• In 2009, as Washington was haggling over the proposed stimulus package to rescue the country from an economic morass, Huntsman was quoted as saying the proposed $870 billion plan was "too small."

Asked about it this week, Huntsman said, "I think, if you look at the totality of that statement on the stimulus, you'll find that it was in line with what Mark Zandi was talking about at the time."

Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Economy.com and a former adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, said in February 2009 that a "very sizable economic stimulus plan is vitally needed."

Cap and trade • As governor, Huntsman joined then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to push a regional carbon market and argued that a national "cap and trade" system was needed to deal with carbon emissions.

At campaign stops, Huntsman says that's not the case now.

"It may be that cap and trade, which was looked at several years ago, is less relevant today because of our economic implosion. But you've got a lot of people who are going to look at the best methodology moving forward for dealing with emissions — that still remains a problem."

Huntsman's plan as governor for a regional carbon market never materialized, but he was still a supporter of a national cap-and-trade law as recently as November 2008, when the country had already entered an economic depression.

Huntsman, then chairman of the Western Governors' Association, joined Schweitzer in a letter to then-President-elect Barack Obama arguing for a national energy plan that included a "mandatory national system for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that makes maximum use of market-based mechanisms."

Best-managed state• Huntsman's pitch to voters in the early primary states fondly recalls how Utah was well-prepared for the economic downturn and, during the crisis, still maintained its top-level credit rating, balanced its budget and was lauded as the Best Managed State by the Pew Center on the States and the Best for Business by Forbes magazine.

"When the economic crisis hit, we were ready for it," Huntsman says. "And, by all accounts, our state was measured as the best state in America for business, the best-managed state in America."

He's right, though Huntsman can't take credit for it all.

Forbes did name Utah the best state for business in the union, and Governing magazine dubbed it the best-managed state.

In many ways, the state's rainy-day fund and shifting cash from highways to programs helped prop up state government when tax revenues took a hit.

Individual mandate • The Democrats' health care law, which many conservatives deride as Obamacare, has many Americans fired up, and one thing in particular drives the anger: a mandate that every citizen purchase health insurance.

So far on the campaign trail, Huntsman has quickly passed over discussion of the state's health care reform, other than a cursory mention that it passed one without an individual mandate.

When pressed, Huntsman notes that, yes, he did consider including an individual mandate in health care reform.

"We did analyze and live with the idea of a mandate throughout our period of discussions, but, ultimately, we rejected it," Huntsman said.

But that omits a plan proposed by the United Way of Salt Lake in which an individual mandate was central. Huntsman's office supported that plan. Huntsman also signed a bill into law that would require the state to study the effects of an individual mandate.

tburr@sltrib.com