2018 Salt Lake Chamber Economic Outlook

Romney: Nation Could Learn from Utah

Salt Lake City—The United States has no shortage of challenges to tackle—and the nation could learn a lot from how Utah faces those same challenges. So said Mitt Romney, speaking as the keynote address during Tuesday morning’s Utah Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit, held by the Salt Lake Chamber.

“There is a real need for our country for some of the kinds of things Utah knows how to do best,” said Romney, who added that he’d gone to academics, business and government leaders to ask their opinions on the greatest challenges the nation is facing today. Those needs were named, in part, as the growing public debt, climate change, education and poverty.

Two-thirds of the country’s spending is automatic and goes to entitlement programs, said Romney, saddling the country with growing debt.

“[Our debt] is projected to become much, much larger indeed. Why is that? It’s partly because of how we spend our money,” said Romney. “Non-discretionary spending, Medicare, Medicaid—if you qualify for those programs, you get the funding, and the government sends the check. There’s not a budget set by Congress for that spending amount. …Those areas continue to grow over the coming decades even though revenues…can’t possibly meet the extraordinary growth in these entitlement programs.”

Congress should find a way to make these programs sustainable, said Romney, who lamented that there has been little progress made. Part of the problem, he continued, is that people believe that any reform whatsoever to entitlement programs will be seen as cold-hearted.

“It’s extraordinarily vulnerable to being demagogue’d, because any time you say you’re going to change Social Security—not for anybody retired, not for anybody 55 and older, but for somebody 25 years old—[if you say] we want to change the program a little bit, you’re still going to get demagogue’d.” he said. “‘You’re going to push grandma off the cliff in her wheelchair.’ That is wrong, it’s not the truth, but it’s politically powerful messaging.”

But political gridlock in Washington, D.C., with the ‘us vs. them’ culture in both political parties running rampant, stymies any possibility for enacting solutions.

“We know how to solve [intergenerational poverty]. But we don’t. We know how to solve the education issues that the nation faces, but we don’t. We know how to solve the entitlement issues. But we’re not. Some of these issues, we have answers to—but not the will to get them done,” he said.

Romney illustrated by showing a study where numbers revealed that in 1982, 344 members of the House of Representatives, both Democrats and GOP Republicans, had overlap in the political philosophy and voting record of members. In 2013, only four members had any overlap on their voting preferences across the aisle. In the Senate, that number is currently zero.

“The common ground in terms of voting and economic perspective has almost disappeared. … That makes it challenging to get the job done,” he lamented. “Nonetheless, I remain overwhelmingly optimistic about the future of American economy, particularly if we can get Washington to learn some of the lessons from Utah.”

In Utah, said Romney, government spending has stayed pat between 2000-2017, the nation’s has grown. Utah’s government debt remains far lower than the nation’s. Utah has been cutting CO2 emissions by almost 2 percent per year, while the federal government is closer to 1.4 percent. And Utah has also embraced trade, has greater employment growth and personal income growth than the nation’s average. Those results show that Utah’s method could make real change in Washington and for the nation, said Romney.

“I hope that the lessons have been learned in this state as a laboratory democracy can be shared with our nation as a whole,” he said.