Better UTAH Beat Episode 50 – June 4, 2013

It was hard to read the editorial pages of either of Utah’s two daily papers last week without seeing a glowing reference to a recently released report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The report, titled “Rich States, Poor States,” places Utah at the top of the economic heap.

According to its own website, ALEC “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” But what does that mean in practice?

At Alliance for a Better UTAH we’ve covered the workings of ALEC quite extensively. Last year, when the big-business-backed lobbying association held its annual convention in Salt Lake City, we joined with other local organizations to organize a counter-conference to expose the ALEC agenda. ALEC and its Utah legislative supporters, as you can imagine, were not pleased. We had originally planned to hold the conference across the street from the Grand America–where ALEC was meeting–at the Little America. But ALEC cited a provision in their contract that would allow them to change venues if an anti-ALEC crowd showed up. We ended up holding our own gathering at another location. But we did more than just stage a counter-demonstration.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, we launched a statewide media campaign to bring awareness to ALEC-related activities. Until then, ALEC was able to fly under the radar in Utah while its name, let alone its doings, had remained little known among the general populace. Almost a year later, news stories covering the ALEC report barely needed to give any background information on the organization. Utahns know what ALEC is, and despite the report’s glowing remarks for our economy, more and more Utahns are wising up to the destructive influence ALEC has on Utah’s right to self-governance.

Indeed, something sinister lurks beneath the shiny packaging of ALEC’s most recent ranking. That is, to do well by ALEC standards, you have to do really bad by a host of other standards.

ALEC has waged an aggressive campaign against unions. States with right-to-work laws, or laws that restrict union activity, rank higher in their annual report. But if it weren’t for unions we wouldn’t have sick leave, overtime, a 40-hour work week, or workers’ compensation.

And speaking of workers’ compensation, ALEC isn’t too pleased with that either. They rank highly states with low worker compensation costs, despite ALEC’s support for traditionally hazardous jobs like manufacturing and mining.

ALEC also insists that economically successful states have few public employees–a term that would apparently include public school teachers. A low public employee-to-resident ratio likely means an insufficient number of teachers.

ALEC also requires its highly ranked states to maintain extremely low tax rates. Rates so low that they allow corporations–that disproportionately use public services like roads, etc.–to skirt their responsibility for maintaining public infrastructure.

It is somewhat surprising for a state that prides itself on it’s self-made attitude–demonstrated by a desire to get the federal government out of lands and our coffers–would be so willing to let a national organization like ALEC dictate our legislative agenda. It is the big-business equivalent of big-government intervention.

Our conservative state legislature doesn’t want the federal government telling us how to run our health care, but they suddenly become compliant when a special interest group forces their own plans for healthcare onto our state. Utah has a lot to be proud of, including low unemployment rates and a quickly-reviving economy. But we shouldn’t let those successes cloud our ability to fairly and accurately assess the influence of a big-business special interest group like ALEC.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

For more information, visit betterutah.org.

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