Tribune editorial: Again, Utah’s legislative session is a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Utah has a legislative branch that is a maddeningly sterile hybrid of conceit and cowardice.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Legislators in the House Chamber of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

— William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, scene v

The 2024 regular session of the Utah Legislature ended as it began. With an aura of utter arrogance. An attitude that the members of the Republican supermajority know what is best for us and there is no need for them to listen to anyone else.

This patriarchal view is normal for Utah’s many anti-intellectual, anti-transparency, anti-empathy-for-the-least-of-these elected officials. But it reached new heights this year. As it seems to every year.

Such an approach to governing could be tolerable, even admirable, if the result were a Legislature with the spine to cut through the confusion, face down the special interests and deal with Utah’s most pressing issues.

If these lawmakers would tackle what is, on some days, the nation’s worst air quality. The slowly-but-surely dying Great Salt Lake. The number of our neighbors who cannot afford a decent place to live or have access to health care. An educational system straining at the seams to keep up with 21st century needs.

Instead, we have a legislative branch that is a maddeningly sterile hybrid of conceit and cowardice.

One that ignores our real needs and dithers over made-up threats from transgender people in bathrooms. That allows the weakest links in our educational system to ban books from public schools.

That commits taxpayers money to preserving coal as an energy source when the marketplace that Utah Republicans supposedly revere is moving on.

We are governed by people who cannot or will not help our state move forward because they have no vision, or don’t think it is the proper role of government, or can’t be bothered to find the money to pay for it.

Yet they find the energy to move legislation that hides more government information from the public.

Another dose of trickle-down economics

Our politicians hope that tossing us another round of income tax cuts will make us feel served. Income tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the rich, even though the rich haven’t been heard to ask for them.

The attitude expressed by Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, is telling.

“Those people who add to the economy are the ones that benefit from this,” Christofferson said, offering a stunningly ignorant rehash of the totally discredited theory of trickle-down economics.

It is as if all the construction workers and nurses and teachers and police officers and waiters and truck drivers and insurance salesmen and grocers and auto mechanics and plumbers and artists and small business owners and IT guys and hairdressers don’t add to the economy.

They are the economy. They, in the words of George Bailey, do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.

And rather than pocket the additional $2 to $5 a month from their tax cuts, the people who do all the work around here would benefit much more, and do more to keep the economy humming, if the state had kept what will be nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in tax cuts and put it toward education instead.

Utah’s true private sector leaders go unheard

This as the true leaders of Utah’s private sector, assembled under the name of the Utah Impact Partnership, have called for the Legislature to approve the proposal from Gov. Spencer Cox to put $115 million toward shelters for the homeless and affordable housing. A group that has pledged $15 million in homeless aid from private sources if the state does its part.

A group that has rightly wondered aloud if the state has any business creating multi-billion-dollar special authorities to build baseball stadiums and hockey arenas as it carelessly cuts the governor’s housing spending request by more than half.

Even those of us who really like the idea of Salt Lake City becoming a Major League Baseball town are appalled by the sight of state lawmakers who couldn’t be bothered to help the homeless or clean the air or conserve water suddenly shocked out of their torpor — eagerly making lists of taxes they could raise — when the supposed prize was help for local billionaires to pay for some new toys.

The sound and fury should be raised by the people of Utah. Their legislators certainly signify nothing.