By Brice Wallace
Pres. George H.W. Bush once uttered the phrase “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
The leader of the Salt Lake Chamber could have voiced his own version of the phrase last week as he called for no new business regulations.
During the annual Economic Outlook & Public Policy Summit, presented by the Salt Lake Chamber and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, Derek Miller, the chamber’s president and CEO, made it clear that Utah businesses have enough to deal with already.
“Our top priority in the midst of this pandemic-caused economic strain is to ensure that businesses survive, that they’re able to keep their doors open, keep their customers safe and keep their team members employed,” he said.
Business owners’ attention is focused all day on coping with the added strains caused by the pandemic, he said.
“They simply cannot afford to spend time or expense learning and adjusting to new regulatory schemes. That is why this year we are asking the Legislature for a moratorium on imposing any new regulatory burdens through this difficult time.”
Several legislators and new Gov. Spencer Cox later took to the stage and while not specifically committing to a moratorium, they expressed an interest in relieving the regulatory burden that Utah businesses face.
“It’s really important that we try to figure out what has made us so successful, and we need to make sure that we keep that ‘secret sauce’ going,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said of Utah’s economy. “And part of that is that Utah has made a concerted effort to not put additional regulations on business, but to try to be responsible and deregulate as much as we can to allow that private sector, the free markets, to be able to generate the revenue that allows us to have those tax dollars to be able to fund education and other government services that we have.”
Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said Utah has a preference to deregulate traditional industries, but the state also has emerging industries and technologies and the Legislature should “make sure that we aren’t putting unintended regulatory barriers in front of them.”
Cox noted that his first executive order calls for state agencies to review regulations related to businesses and occupational licensure. Utahns are living in a time when industries and businesses are changing, “and yet we have regulatory schemes that are often 40 or 50 years old, and they’re barriers to entry for these new businesses and barriers to competition,” he said.
Many regulations actually prevent single mothers and new entrepreneurs from entering the marketplace, he said, adding that regulatory reviews need to take place often.
“We have to be intentional about that piece,” he said, “reviewing constantly what was done 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and does still make sense today?”
The new governor called upon the summit audience, in-person and online, to provide feedback.
“If you have ideas, please let us know where we’re constricting your ability to do business, to increase market share, and to deliver your goods or services to the people of the state of Utah, and we will do everything we can to remove those burdens while still, of course, protecting the health and safety of the people here,” he said.
The legislative general session begins Jan. 19 and continues through March 5. Miller noted that the challenges that businesses faced a year ago were related to unprecedented growth and economic success. Those remain, with the 2020 issues added to them. He said that the chamber’s legislative and policy priorities focus not just on short-term recovery but also long-term prosperity.
One priority will be to provide training and connect out-of-work Utahns to available jobs. “We simply can’t continue to grow if we cannot provide skilled workers that companies need to succeed,” Miller said.
Other priorities address transportation, energy resources, affordable housing, economic opportunities in rural Utah, and the environment and clean air need to support the state’s high quality of life.
In the short term, Miller called upon the Legislature and executive branch to work with the business community on vaccine distribution, “to quickly protect our workforce, thereby protecting our fledgling economic recovery.”
“Nothing,” Miller said, “is more important right now in the current fight against the virus than having a well-thought-out and well-executive plan for vaccination. With the vaccine, the end of the pandemic is in sight. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must march towards it.”