If, like me, you huddled under shelter Monday while rain bounced off the asphalt like thousands of tiny rubber balls, you may be interested in scanning some of the issues Utah’s currents are carrying downstream this spring. Here’s a sampling from my files:
Water, everywhere: Rain can be deceiving. When it comes after years of drought, we forget we live in the nation’s second driest state (behind Nevada), and one of the nation’s fastest growing states (sixth, according to Census figures released late last year).
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And we forget that this combination points to trouble.
So forgive me for throwing water on the state’s H2Oath campaign that started this week, but there are better ways to tackle conservation.
Sure, the idea is noble. Get people, businesses and institutions to pledge to conserve water, and give them information on how to water lawns wisely. No doubt it will have some effect.
Real conservation, however, won’t come until financial incentives are introduced. The first of these would be to make Utah’s water users pay the true cost of water. Right now, property taxes subsidize water districts and keep rates artificially low. The second thing would be for districts to impose aggressive tiered rates. Keep water cheap up to a certain level of monthly usage, then increase the costs dramatically.
We obey our pocketbooks. We pledge to them our honor, sacred duty and credit ratings without even lifting our right arms. It wouldn’t take long for homeowners and businesses alike to conserve under such a scheme, and the benefits would come without anyone having to promise anything.
Now here’s a question: Which candidates for the Legislature of the governor’s office will make this a part of their campaigns?
That’ll show ‘em! Judging by Facebook and some private conversations with friends, some Republicans in Utah (perhaps more than just some) have decided to un-affiliate themselves with the party as a protest against the pending nomination of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Almost always, when I say, “Oh, so you’re not going to vote in the upcoming primary?” they respond with, “What primary?”
It remains to be seen whether these symbolic protests will affect turnout, or even the results, of the June primary between incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert and his challenger, Jonathan Johnson. You must be a registered party member to vote.
Free market? Utah lawmakers like to talk about free enterprise and competition, but Utah is one of six states that have made it illegal for Tesla Motors to sell its cars directly to consumers without a dealer’s license.
Tesla, which makes all-electric cars it hopes will disrupt the auto industry, has a lot of problems to overcome. It remains to be seen whether its CEO, Elon Musk, is up to the challenge. But the company is set to argue before the Utah Supreme Court that it should be allowed to sell here. Similar efforts are underway nationwide, involving support from the Institute for Justice, which has championed successful fights against anticompetitive laws.
The state argues the law keeps all auto manufacturers from competing directly with dealers. As someone trying to survive in an industry turned upside down by new competitive forces on the Internet, I’m sympathetic. But competition is good, as witnessed by how GM soon will be testing self-driving electric cars.
Federal lands: I hear candidates talking about the need for Utah to take control of federal lands in the state. Some even reference a study by researchers at the University of Utah and Utah State that shows how much money the state could make off royalties for energy extraction.
Conveniently, they ignore the part of the report that says if oil averaged $62 per barrel or less, Utah taxpayers would lose hundreds of millions per year managing the land.
Today, crude oil is $44.65 per barrel, and that’s an increase after months of prices in the $30 range. The report was published in 2014. No doubt, inflation since then has increased the cost of land management. Be careful for what you wish.