Interview with Rep. Greg Hughes (R-Draper)
On Wednesday, September 27th, Utah Taxpayer Association vice president Mike Jerman interviewed Rep. Greg Hughes (R-Draper). Hughes, along with Rep. Wayne Harper (R-West Jordan), was the recipient of the association's 2006 Taxpayer Advocate of the Year. A small business owner, Hughes is also the chairman of the House Conservative Caucus.
Mike Jerman: What are the biggest issues in the 2007 General Session?
Rep. Greg Hughes: Slowing the growth in state government spending is a major issue. The state's general revenues increased 18% in the recently concluded fiscal year (2006), and this follows a 12.4% annual increase in 2005. We had some lean years a couple of years ago, but overall state revenue growth has exceeded inflation and population growth over the last ten years. We'll always have unfunded needs in Utah, but we can't forget the taxpayers nor can we pretend that high tax burdens don't negatively impact long term economic growth. Reform is also a big issue.
MJ: What type of reform?
Hughes: Tax reform, education reform, and transportation reform. If the education and transportation lobbies had their way, we would see an avalanche of taxes that would kill our economy. We would have to raise our individual income taxes by more than 80% to increase our per student spending to the national average. And then we would have to increase local property taxes to build new schools to accommodate class size reduction. Education reform entails many changes, including merit pay, differential pay, and more parental choice. I also support increasing funding in the classroom as a percent of total education funding.
MJ: What about transportation reform?
Hughes: We need to make sure that transportation is adequately funded because economic development depends in large part on the viability of our transportation infrastructure. However, I am opposed to simply throwing money at the problem, and that's where transportation reform comes in. In the recent special session, I worked with my legislative colleagues to require side-by-side prioritization of road and transit projects. Prioritization will be based on cost-effectiveness of reducing congestion. We should have done this years ago. I also successfully fought for increased funding for corridor preservation. We can save a lot of money by buying up road corridors now before residential and commercial development encroaches on these corridors. This is also something we should have been aggressively pursuing years ago.
MJ: Politics usually focuses on the bad news. Is there any good news out there?
Hughes: Yes, the economy is growing which is why tax revenues are exploding. We significantly increased education funding in the recent general session, even though education groups don't acknowledge this. The education appropriation for FY2007 is 11.3% higher than the original pre-supplemental appropriation for FY2006.
When calculating spending increases, spending groups like to include supplemental appropriations for the base year even when the supplemental appropriations are not known for the current year. This understates actual expenditure growth. Supplemental appropriations should be included only when the supplemental amount is known for both years that are being compared.
The rainy day funds and the "working" rainy day funds are at all time highs, $255 million and $708 million respectively. The state has the highest possible credit rating. As a growing state with large families, we will always face challenges, but I am optimistic about the future of this state. I wouldn't be in the Legislature if I had a pessimistic view of Utah's future.
MJ: One last question. Are your Pirates going to let my Astros win so the Astros can have another shot at the World Series?
Hughes: I hope not. The Disastros embarrassed the entire National League last year when they were swept by the White Sox.