This Op-ed originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. To see the original article, click here.
Recently, Republicans in the House and Senate passed budget resolutions that would allow the tax code to undergo its most sweeping revision in three decades with only a simple majority in both chambers.
Much has been made about the staggering value of the tax cuts President Trump and congressional Republicans have proposed, totaling $1.5 trillion over 10 years. It is important to note these are only resolutions, meaning they’re only proposed recommendations and can’t actually be signed into law or vetoed by the president – yet.
Even Republicans have conceded that economic growth cannot compensate for that lost revenue, however, meaning these resolutions contain key insights into how congressional Republicans — including the Utah delegation that voted in unanimity for them — plan to pay for them. This is why voters should be concerned, because Utahns would be compensating for these tax cuts in ways they likely have not even imagined, particularly those from rural counties.
For starters, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Congress and President Trump’s proposed budget would gut approximately $1 trillion from Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act alone, larger than the cuts proposed in the wildly unpopular Graham-Cassidy Act that failed to pass Congress earlier this year. It would undoubtedly impact the 300,000 Utahns who rely on Medicaid, 170,000 of whom are children.
In counties like Duchesne, Sevier and Iron, it would impact over 15 percent of their population who are directly enrolled on Medicaid. In San Juan County, that number is over 25 percent. This doesn’t even account for the jobs inevitably lost as regional economic engines like the San Juan Regional Medical Center, which employs over 1,600 people, will be forced to see fewer patients and make cutbacks.
Utah politicians love to brag about the state’s family values and rural heritage, but apparently think that involves throwing poor kids off health care and slashing good-paying jobs from outlying counties.
The hits don’t stop there. The Senate budget resolution also calls for agricultural spending, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, to be cut by $20.6 billion, even though we just experienced the worst wildfire season in years and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently admitted the federal government needs to be spending more, not less, money on forestry and brush management to prevent these conflagrations.
I’m sure the people in Garfield and Iron counties who lost their homes to last summer’s Brian Head fire understand the necessity of funding another round of failed trickle-down economics instead of protecting their communities.
Lastly, Utah’s iconic lands and wildlife would be affected. Spending on environment and natural resources would fall by $14.3 billion over 10 years and impact the over 34 million acres of land within Utah that is federally owned. How would these agencies make up the difference? We’ve already seen one attempt in the proposal to more than double entrance fees to National Parks like Arches and Zion, but they go much deeper than that.
The Senate resolution orders its Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pursue fast-track legislation — meaning debate would be limited and only 51 votes required — to raise a billion dollars in new revenue through sales and leases. According to the Center for Western Priorities, this would open up millions of acres of federal land to be sold to the highest bidder and fulfill a long-held priority of Utah politicians.
If privatized, grazing fees for ranchers would skyrocket, as experts have long agreed the Bureau of Land Management charges well below market rate, with no recourse available. What land in Utah that remains undrilled and unmined will still be considered among the most beautiful in the world; that is, if you can still afford to see it.
Perhaps most disturbing, the budget would raise $10 million by selling thousands of wild mustangs captured throughout the Western U.S. without the requirement that buyers guarantee the animals won’t be resold for slaughter – a protection that has been in place for over half a century. There are over 2,600 wild horses spread across 270 herd areas in Utah that could be rounded up by helicopter as a result. Nothing says, “Make America Great Again” than selling an icon of the American West to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico to be served as a delicacy in Belgium and France.
The recent budgets endorsed heartily by Utah’s senators and representatives are not only of dubious economic value. They sell out Utah families, ranchers, sportsmen, and outdoor enthusiasts to finance tax breaks for people who live in gilded towers in Manhattan. Utah voters deserve better than this scam.
Ian Summers is a graduate research fellow in the University of Utah’s Department of Communication and special advisor to Alliance for a Better Utah. His research focuses on public lands controversies and how social movements call themselves oppressed in order to justify their actions.