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Gov. addresses ethics reform, budget issues ahead of 2010 session

Posted - Jan. 21, 2010 at 6:02 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Powerful voices at the Utah State Capitol are coming out in favor of ethics reform. House lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment, and Gov. Gary Herbert says he is open to talking about it.

The list of items up for change includes creating an ethics commission, gift limits and tighter gift disclosure, campaign finance rules and filing deadlines. Talks are ongoing about changing these rules.

On Thursday, at his monthly KUED news conference, Herbert said he supports the efforts to make changes. He said he supports more openness and transparency, gift bans and instant disclosure.

"I expect and will call on the Legislature to, in fact, address those issues in the session. I think it's healthy to have that discussion," Herbert said.

The governor did say he supports campaign finance reform but not limits on campaign contributions. By coincidence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that limits on federal contributions are unconstitutional because the donations constitute free speech.

Herbert has cited that very reason for his resistance to limits, but he said he does support openness about those donations.

"I, for example, think it ought to be instantaneous disclosure," Herbert said. "I think that's much more valuable piece of information to the general public to know who is contributing to my campaign, so they can analyze the why, ‘why did that group support Gary?'"

Supporters of the ethics initiative have doubts about the Legislature's efforts. They say future changes would be difficult, under a constitutional amendment.

The bottom line right now: It looks like ethics is a hot topic this year, second only to the state's budget problems. The governor is concerned about that too.

"As we come into the end of 2010, we have a shortfall. We have about $160 million we have to close on the gap," Herbert said.

To close that gap, lawmakers are proposing a number of ways to cut costs. One is to cut dental or vision services to pregnant women who qualify for Medicaid.

If lawmakers approve the current budget proposal, state programs serving everyone from the mentally ill to the elderly will be cut 0.75 percent.

Public education has already been trimmed by more than 5 percent this school year, and another 4 percent reduction could be coming.

Most taxpayers, however, say they would rather pay more than see cuts. A Dan Jones poll for KSL-TV and the Deseret News found 53 percent of those asked would choose to pay more in taxes rather than see cuts in education or human services; 41 percent oppose the idea.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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