Utah Gov. Herbert urges no tax hikes in address

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday urged lawmakers not to raise any taxes in his first State of the State address, saying that doing so could threaten a slowly rebounding economy. Herbert delivered his speech amid an economic recession that has some lawmakers eyeing tax hikes on tobacco, food and fuel. Lawmakers must close an expected $700 million shortfall in the budget year that begins July 1. Herbert reminded lawmakers, and voters, that he has already proposed a budget that doesn’t include any new taxes. “We must balance our budget responsibly and in a way that does not stifle an economy that is finally beginning to show signs of recovery,” the Republican governor said in prepared remarks. “We need to support our hardworking citizens and businesses, not stifle them with new tax burdens.” Herbert, the former lieutenant governor, took office in August after Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China. He faces a special election this year to fill out the remainder of Huntsman’s term, and much of his speech focused on letting voters know that his policies won’t be much different than Huntsman’s, although he avoided direct comparisons. Huntsman was the most popular governor in state history, and Herbert reiterated that he, just as Huntsman did, opposes the disposal of foreign nuclear waste in Utah. EnergySolutions Inc. wants to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy’s shuttered nuclear program. After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons of the waste would be disposed of at the company’s facility in the west Utah desert. Utah is appealing a federal court ruling that would allow the waste to come here. Herbert also “reaffirmed” an executive order that Huntsman signed banning executive-branch employees from accepting gifts and establishing a two-year period before former state employees could lobby their former co-workers. Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who is Herbert’s only challenger so far, has made government ethics one of his primary campaign issues. Herbert said he was looking forward to signing ethics legislation into law this year but didn’t specify what he would support. In the past, he has said he opposes capping campaign contributions in favor of rapid disclosure in them. Herbert has received some contributions as large as $50,000 – exceeding the $10,000 limit Huntsman placed on himself as he sought re-election in 2008. Utah is one of a few states that places no limits on who can donate to campaigns, how large those donations can be or how campaign contributions can be spent. All of that would change under a series of ethics bills being considered in the state Legislature. Those bills are largely in response to past accusations of legislative bribery. In the Democratic response to Herbert’s address, Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, questioned Herbert’s budget priorities, directly asking viewers if they support Herbert’s proposals. “Are you OK with increasing the class sizes in schools because we are not paying for the 11,000 additional students that are entering our public schools this year alone? … Is it OK that more college bound students are not choosing to become teachers because of low pay and increasingly difficult conditions?” Jones said.

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