Utah Gov. Gary Herbert talked to The Universe from his office on Capitol Hill about the $1.7 billion I-15 core expansion project and how his administration is managing one of America’s fastest growing economies.
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart has said “there is not one dime” of federal money paying for I-15 construction. How is it being paid for?
It’s a balancing act of prioritization. The operating budget is about $5.1 billion and the overall budget is $12.9 billion. Some of that is shared responsibilities with the federal government, but you have to pick and choose where you spend it. However, the I-15 core project has been done with only Utah money.
“It’s a combination as we build roads of cash and carry — we pay cash for the roads we build out of resources and revenue streams we have, and we borrow some — we call it bonding. So there’s bonds out there probably in the $1.5- to $2-billion range.”
We only borrow for some things, but within reason. We build structures like roads and buildings with that money, but we don’t borrow money for ongoing government programs.
The construction on I-15 is one of 200 projects going on throughout the state. There are road construction projects in virtually all of the 29 counties. However, the biggest one happens to be in Utah county — the I-15 CORE project. A lot of people see I-15 and think, “Wow, what a big road project,” and it is, but it’s in the budget.
When will the I-15 core expansion project be complete?
I-15 will be done by the first part of December this year. “I-15 is a $1.7 billion overall project — one of the largest in America.”
Utah builds roads more efficiently than any other place in America. “We’re getting more roads for less money, under time and we will have saved on that project, through the good work of our UDOT, about $200 million, which will be reinvested into other road projects.”
What has your administration put on hold while this money is being redirected to the construction?
Nothing has been put on hold. It’s a matter of having to be more frugal and more efficient.
“Like in the business world, you’ve got to run to keep up, and we’re running better than any other state in America. We’re doing more with less over the last 12 years.”
People often talk about education as being a place where cuts are made. Funding is lower based on per-pupil measurements largely because Utah has the highest birthrate in America. In fact, we have added new money to the base budget in the last two years — not only in K-12 but in higher education as well.
“We haven’t laid off teachers — we’ve hired more teachers over the last few years. Some states haven’t been able to do that, but in Utah we’ve been able to maintain and add to what we’ve done in the past.”
What steps are you taking to lead Utah in keeping up with the rapid growth?
Utah is probably the second fastest growing state in America for three reasons. First, we have a high birthrate, so our internal growth rate is much faster than other states. Second, we have a great quality of life. People come to Utah to live, set up a house and raise families. Third, we have economic opportunity.
“(Utah is) growing at twice the national average. … We are creating jobs at the second-fastest rate of any state in America, second only to North Dakota.”
What about Utah’s water rights and water usage in the western states?
“When Brigham Young came, as you all know, he came to a very arid state. … As we made the desert blossom as a rose, we learned how to harness the snowmelt in our great Rocky Moutains, built reservoirs, canals, ditches and developed a sophisticated irrigation system.”
We’re going to resist that others want our water — it’s our water.
“We won’t tell Nevada what to do with their water. They can do what they want with their own, but they can’t have any of ours. I would say the same thing to Arizona, California or anybody else. This administration will protect our water rights, and it’s clearly our life blood.”
How is Utah an example to other states for moving into economic recovery and development?
We have not abandoned basic principles of fiscal prudence. The economy will grow in all states, and a growing economy will help everyone.
“We’ve not grown government by using one-time money. Arizona, for example, here a year ago sold their state capitol,” Gov. Herbert said as he knocked on the table in his office. “Can you image that? They sold it and leased it back. They sold it to generate money to plug a hole in the budget.”
“One-time money is one-time money.” In Utah, our ongoing revenue equals our out-going expenses.
“Some states don’t have revenue that keeps up with their expenses, so they plug it with one-time money. They sell something off — they borrow money. We would never do that in Utah. That’s fiscally irresponsible.”
Who will you vote for in the 2012 Presidential election?
“No question. I’m a big Mitt Romney fan — I’d vote for him.”
I believe his background and executive experience has prepared him. Having been governor of a state, he actually had to run a government.
“He did a great job in a very liberal state, which is pretty remarkable.”
“He came here; he ran the Olympics, you know. (He) turned it around here. He turned it around in Massachusetts, and he’s been a turnaround specialist in the private sector — to the point that he’s been fabulously successful. That’s exactly the kind of experience we need in the White House.”