Hinckley director joins governor?s advisory team

By By Chris Mumford

By Chris Mumford

Although the budget challenges facing Utah might not be on par with civil war, Gov. Gary Herbert is following Abraham Lincoln’s footsteps and forming a “team of rivals” to help him navigate the troubled path ahead.

A modified version of the group of advisers, originally formed under former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as the Governor’s Advisory Team, will be comp0sed of prominent business leaders and former political adversaries, including Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers, who considered running against Herbert for governor next year.

As Utah is facing a budget shortfall that could be anywhere from $850 million to $1 billion, Herbert told the Deseret News that he wanted to surround himself with sharp minds to tackle the looming crisis. Jowers’ connection to the U puts him in a unique position to mitigate the impact of these shortfalls on public and higher education, which he says will be his two major priorities as a member of the team.

“I think Gov. Herbert chose me because we have a long-standing relationship and he trusts my judgment on a number of issues, as well as governance issues in general,” Jowers said.

A number of solutions, such as targeted tax increases on tobacco and gasoline, have emerged recently to shield higher education from further funding cuts. The Board of Regents proposed a reinstated food tax. Herbert said he would oppose any such increases.

“I certainly would have never been bold enough to say no new taxes because there’s a huge deficit, and I think a lot of areas have taken significant cuts already,” Jowers said.
Although Jowers stopped short of endorsing the proposed tax hikes, saying instead that he naturally opposes raising taxes, he said it would be unwise at this stage to eliminate any options.

“I think all policy decisions have to be seen in their entirety, and to take any one thing off the table can be problematic as the situation crystallizes,” he said.

Herbert’s opposition of tax increases aside, Jowers said he believes that the governor recognizes the severity of the situation facing higher and public education. He said he hopes the necessary steps will be taken to protect these institutions.

“Gov. Herbert has said all the right things to me about his commitment to higher education,” Jowers said. “I’m cautiously optimistic about his budget with regards to higher education.”

Jowers said he believes legislators are fully aware of the threat that further budget cuts pose to higher education but that the challenge will be convincing legislators to pass measures that might prove politically fatal in an election year.

However, Jowers said he remains optimistic that there are plenty of legislators who would be open to the idea of passing targeted tax increases in the interest of protecting education, despite potential backlash from voters.

“Tax increases, no matter what the justification, always have political downsides,” he said. “But if the situation is dire enough in certain areas, then there could be significant downsides in not looking for options in funding critical programs.”

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