It’s no secret. Our federal government is addicted to overspending and debt. Do you have any idea how much the federal government overspends every second? Every minute? Every day? Every year?*
On October 6, 2016, I spoke to the State Financial Officers Foundation at their annual meeting, which was held in Chicago, Illinois. They asked me to share with them my legislative efforts in Utah to reduce our dependence on unsustainable federal funds.
I don’t really like business travel or being away from my family. But, I see the great value to Utah in building a coalition of state leaders to stand together in reducing federal overreach and overspending.
I shared with this assembly of state treasurers and staff how in Utah we monitor, model, and plan for risks to the flow of federal funds that make up the largest source of revenue to most states. Here is a link to the handout I prepared for conference attendees. It outlines the package of bills we passed and continue to work on in Utah. Here is a link to the slides I presented.
I shared a couple of stories that illustrate the importance and urgency of these efforts.
We developed our Financial Ready Utah package of bills in 2013 with the Utah Association of CPAs, West Jordan Chamber of Commerce, and other cities and organizations. As a result, I had the opportunity to have breakfast with the president of a national association of accountants. During breakfast, he mentioned that he had served as one of three private accountants on the seven-member Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Hearing this, I took the opportunity to ask him a question that had been bothering me for some time.
“Why doesn’t the federal government have to include its future obligations for things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, etc. on its financial statements?”
Every city, county, and state government, and all private companies have to include future obligations (like pensions, contract obligations, etc.) on their financial statements (… or they likely go to jail). His response haunts me to this day. He said he asked this very question during his first board meeting. The federal accountants simply responded, “It’s the federal government. We don’t include those as obligations.”
After pressing them persistently for a real answer to his question they finally said, “We know we can never pay those obligations, so they are not real obligations. Therefore, we don’t book them.”
Think about that. The federal government doesn’t consider the promises it has made to needy children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor as “real obligations.” Therefore, when push comes to shove, they can disregard these “obligations” and the real people who live in our neighborhoods, cities and states who are now dependent on these promises.
We must prepare in our states to care for our neighbors and needy among us when (not if) the federal government ignores these “real obligations” to these “real people.”
I then told them about the first ever Convention of States simulation that took place last month in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a tremendous honor to be elected by the nationwide assembly of delegates to preside over this historic convention.
States have the power under Article V of the Constitution to propose and ratify constitutional amendments that impose fiscal restraints on Washington; restrict the power and reach of the federal government; and impose term limits on federal officials, for example.
In closing, I shared a story about my favorite one sentence sermon.
When I served on the high council of my LDS stake (kind of like a diocese), our soft-spoken stake president, Joseph Smith (seriously, though he’s not a direct descendent), came in one wintery Sunday morning with the brightest sunburned, red face I think I’ve ever seen. Sitting directly across the large meeting table from him I could almost feel the heat radiating from his raccoon-like face. He explained he had been snowmobiling the day before. Then in one sentence he taught a profound lesson: “Brethren, it’s not enough to simply own sunscreen.”
I think these state financial officers got the message. It’s not enough for us to simply have the power to end the federal insanity of overspending, debts and deficits that are consuming our children’s and grandchildren’s future.
Thanks to many speaking opportunities like this I have had around the nation over the past few years, we are building allies for the work we are doing here. It will take a union of states to prepare for the financial earthquake resulting from a loss of federal funds and for restoring fiscal and constitutional sanity to our nation.