Gov. Gary Herbert says Utahns should be concerned about the Legislature calling itself into special session

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Supporters and opponents of Utah’s medical marijuana initiative joined with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at the Utah Capitol to announce a “shared vision” for cannabis policy.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert opposed Constitutional Amendment C, but he said Thursday he doesn’t have a “big burning problem” with Utah voters approving the change that allows lawmakers to convene themselves in special session.

Herbert said he trusts lawmakers to exercise restraint, but added that he is concerned about the amendment’s lack of definition for what constitutes an “emergency” that would require legislative action.

“They can define ‘emergency' themselves," Herbert said. “The latitude to determine what an emergency is, is the one that should cause us all concern.”

The amendment passed by a 63-37 margin, according to the latest returns — an overwhelming victory despite the fact that there was no organized campaign for the proposal. Herbert, however, had donated $55,000 to a political issues committee formed to fight the amendment.

Herbert’s remarks came during his monthly KUED news conference, in which the governor remarked on the deaths of notable Utahns Jim Hansen, the former congressman; Dan Jones, a prominent pollster and educator; and Utah National Guard Maj. Brent Taylor, the North Ogden mayor killed on a deployment to Afghanistan.

He also commented on the economic health of the state, suggesting that he may request a tax cut in budget recommendations to the Legislature next month while calling for a broader discussion on tax reform.

Utah incomes have grown “dramatically," Herbert said, boosting the state’s income-tax revenues as a result. But other revenue sources like the gas tax are failing to cover costs in a way they used to, he said.

“We ought to be broadening the [tax] base in a fair way,” he said. “Tax reform is a complicated issue but it’s something we need to start.”

Herbert’s comments came one day after members of the Utah House GOP Caucus heard a presentation on tax revenues from Legislative Fiscal Analyst Jonathan Ball.

Ball cautioned lawmakers that the state’s current economic growth trends are similar to what Utah saw during the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. Despite the growth in income-tax revenue, Ball suggested that holding some portion of budget surpluses in reserve accounts could protect the state against a potential recession

“That is not sustainable,” Ball said of current trends.

Herbert’s predecessor as governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., called for and signed into law an income tax cut in 2007, shortly before the economic downturn.

During his news conference, Herbert also remarked on the successful passage of Utah’s Proposition 2 and Proposition 3, which legalize medical marijuana and fully expand Medicaid, respectively.

A special session is expected on Dec. 3 to debate a substitute medical-marijuana proposal, which Herbert said is intended to address flaws in the initiative, rather than supplant the will of the people.

On Medicaid expansion, Herbert said he opposes a repeal of Proposition 3 — as at least one Utah lawmaker has called for — but that some adjustments may be necessary to protect the influx of new beneficiaries from straining state coffers.

“Democrats and Republicans alike have called Medicaid the budget buster of all time,” Herbert said. “The question is affordability and fiscal responsibility going forward.”

Video of the news conference is embedded above. If you’re using The Salt Lake Tribune’s mobile app, you can watch the conference here.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman Jr. is the brother of Tribune owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman.