SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Gov. Jon Huntsman said Thursday he chose to issue an executive order calling for ethics reforms rather than seek a change in state law because he didn’t want to wait any longer for the Legis-lature to act.
In Huntsman’s State of the State ad-dress, he said he would put an end to nepotism in hiring or awarding con-tracts; install a two-year cooling off period before state workers can lobby their former employer; and ban all gifts to employees in the executive branch.
Huntsman said his staff is researching the specifics of how the executive order will be worded, but he’ll likely sign the order next week.
Huntsman has tried for years to per-suade lawmakers to make reforms in other areas too. That includes setting term limits for governors and chang-ing campaign finance laws to limit the influence of special interest groups.
Legislators have balked at ethics reforms in their branch of government for years. The Republican-controlled Legislature believes that legislators don’t need tighter controls on gift giving and that they can’t be bought off with meals and tickets to Utah Jazz games.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, has said the news media are responsi-ble for the notion that lawmakers are unethical. Leaders in the House and Senate contend that because gifts of more than $50 are disclosed, the cur-rent system of ethical controls works.
In the Jan. 16 State of the State ad-dress, Huntsman said, “Ethics and integrity should be a requirement within all branches of government.”
On Thursday, after the taping of his monthly KUED news conference, Huntsman said he wants to see more ethics reforms, but he needed to start somewhere.
“I moved because I didn’t want to wait any longer,” he said.
Huntsman said he’s not aware of any ethical breaches in the executive branch, but he wanted to take steps to make sure there wouldn’t be any.
“It’s more of a pre-emptive measure than it is reactive,” Huntsman said. “We want to have (ethics) crisply defined.”
He wouldn’t say whether he hopes the executive order on ethics leads the Legislature to enact its own reforms, which are sponsored by Democrats each year. He said that’s a matter for legislators to decide.
On other issues, Huntsman said he’s “not using the word veto” when it comes to a bill that would repeal a state law that allows illegal immi-grants to receive in-state tuition at state colleges, although he said he still thinks it’s a good law.
He also characterized the sales tax on food as immoral, and said it was his “unspoken goal” to see the state’s portion removed by the 2008 end of his first term in office. Huntsman unsuccessfully tried to get it removed last year and settled for a 2 percent reduction in the state rate.
He has said he would address remov-ing the sales tax on food next year, but on Thursday said, “We might not have to wait another year.”
House Republicans are advocating removing the state tax on food this year, but there is opposition in the Senate.