At the bottom of the recession in 2009, Utah’s economy was losing jobs at the rate of six percent a year. A year later, the number of jobs was growing again, but slowly. Today, Utah is adding jobs at close to three percent annually and the state’s unemployment rate has dropped below six percent for the first time since 2008.
Residential and business construction was the hardest hit sector by far, and the Utah Foundation’s Morgan Lyon Cotti says it’s been among the slowest to recover.
Utah spends less per student in its public schools than any other state. Not just a little less – 15% less than Idaho, the next on the list. Utah’s been at the bottom since 1988.
There are several reasons for that last-place ranking, but the most important is the high ratio of children to adults in Utah – 20-percent more kids as a proportion of the population than most other states.
Utahns cringe when they look at the prices on the gas pumps these days, though prices here haven’t reached the levels seen in California this fall. Most of the gasoline that’s refined and sold in Utah comes from oil produced in the Mountain West. But Utah Foundation researcher Shawn Teigen says the price still responds to national and international markets.
The Affordable Care Act promises to extend the reach of health care coverage to many people who don’t have it now. Critics say it will do that at a huge cost in both money and individual liberty. But the mandate in the law for nearly everyone to buy health insurance has been upheld by the U-S Supreme Court and that requirement will take effect in 2014. The question facing Utah and the rest of country is how to implement the provisions that are maintained by the states.
When Utah’s economy was roaring along in the middle of the decade, then-Governor Jon Huntsman and legislative leaders were looking for ways to reduce the burden of taxes on Utah’s economy. It seemed as though there was plenty of new money to raise pay for teachers, build new roads and expand the reach of social services.
The top rate for state income taxes had been 7.5%. That was reduced to a flat rate of 5%. The state sales tax on food was also reduced, and the state was still showing big surpluses in revenue – until the recession hit and the bottom fell out.
Higher education dropped out of the Utah Foundation’s survey of voter concerns over the past couple of election cycles, but it turned up again in its 2012 poll. It’s risen to the 6th position in the ranking of top ten issues identified by the Utah Priorities Project.
Concern about the environment moved up a notch this year in the Utah Foundation’s survey of issues important to voters. And while there are many aspects of that issue to look at, voters insist air pollution is at the top of their environmental agenda
The increasing polarization of the political process in Utah and across the nation is the next issue identified by the Utah Foundation as part of its Utah Priorities Project. In their open-ended survey, voters ranked partisan politics the 8th most important concern.
A former president who also served for many years in Congress once said, “Truth is the glue that holds government together. Compromise is the oil that makes government go.” Over the past several years, it has seemed at times that government was pretty low on that oil -- about ready to seize up.
In the second part of KUER’s series The Utah Priorities Project, Utah Foundation researchers take a look at poverty in Utah. It’s an issue that is new to the list of top ten issues identified by voters in a statewide survey, coming in at #9.
The recession is partly to blame for the number of people in Utah living in poverty. That total is significantly lower than the nation as a whole, but people living below the federal standard for poverty has continued to grow even as the state’s employment numbers have recovered over the past two years.
The non-partisan Utah Foundation surveys voters every election cycle to find out what issues concern them most. It's called the Utah Priorities Project, and KUER is presenting a series of programs examining these issues with the help of Foundation researchers.
Talk to the candidates and they'll have a list of issues that they say their constituents respond to. But Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes says the Utah Priorities Project lets voters set their own agenda.