The American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual “Rich States, Poor States” report, presented Thursday during the Utah Taxpayers Association’s 2013 Utah Taxes Now Conference, puts the Beehive State at the top of the list of states based on a range of measures.
Gov. Gary Herbert described Utah’s latest No. 1 ranking as the “cream rising to the top.”
“The fact that we’re getting accolades from people outside of our borders is indicative to the fact that we’re accomplishing something,” the governor said. “People are looking to us as the leader.”
Authors of the “Rich States, Poor States” report include economist Arthur Laffer, who served as an economic adviser for former President Ronald Reagan. The economic outlook ranking is based on factors such as tax rates and size of the government workforce.
The report also analyzed performance based on the past 10 years of economic data. Utah was ranked No. 3 in economic forces from 2001 to 2011, taking into consideration income, population and job growth.
The report found that taxes matter and said “people vote with their feet by moving to states with lower tax burdens and better business environments.”
Herbert said regulation reform is key, and that’s why he has eliminated or modified 368 regulations during his time as governor. He said the changes send the message that Utah is open for business.
“We recognize that it is important we have not only competitive tax rates but we have an environment that’s conducive to the entrepreneur,” Herbert said.
He said Utah is seeing the fruits of its labors with the first-place ranking.
“It goes with an empowering of the private sector to do what they do best,” the governor said. “Competitive tax rates, regulation reform and a good workforce give us the success that we’re seeing today.”
Amid the success, Herbert warned those in attendance about becoming complacent, saying it’s easy to think the ranking will happen again like “rolling out of bed in the morning.”
“Six years is not a lot,” he said. “We want to have another year and want to keep this going as long as we can.”
Melva Sine, president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she believes the ranking is accurate.
“I think Utah does do an outstanding job trying to bring government and businesses together so that it provides everything that citizens need,” she said.
Sine said the relationship between government on local and state levels is why the restaurant business is one of the largest growing industries in the state right now.
“Utah has made it possible through tax structure and depreciation (for more job and investment opportunities),” she said.
Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, praised the state for its consistently strong economic outlook.
The ranking “means more opportunities for entrepreneurship, job creation, innovation,” Roberts said. “(These) all go toward building the economy, raising the productivity and standards here in Utah.”
The governor challenged Utahns to increase efficiency by 25 percent over the next four years, and he encouraged people to continue working together.
“I have never seen a time when we are pulling together more than we are doing now,” Herbert said. “We still have differences, but generally speaking, we’re pulling the wagon in the right direction.”
By Emilee Eagar, Deseret News