Southwestern Utah is seeing the most rapid population growth of any area in the United States. St. George and surrounding communities have experienced unprecedented growth of 40 percent or more since 2000. This growth promises to continue.
As Washington and Iron counties continue their rapid growth, local and state leaders will face challenges, among them health care, transportation and water shortages. Education is likely to remain at or near the top of the list.
Utah's looming teacher shortage coupled with southwestern Utah's record growth makes this an especially bad time for us to turn our backs on public education. Utah's Democratic leaders recommended a long-term investment in education during the 2007 legislative session, including a 10 percent increase in state spending over each of the next five years.
This increase would have enabled us to move up in the education funding race from 51st in the nation. It would have allowed us to provide salaries to attract desperately needed new teachers instead of driving them away after just a few years of service. Unfortunately, the Legislature rejected this idea, deciding instead on a large one-time increase in education spending and a huge long-term investment in subsidies for private education academies was the way to go.
Private school vouchers, opposed by every Democrat in the Legislature, draw funding from the general fund that provides the revenue needed to build and maintain Utah's infrastructure and support other basic government services. Voucher supporters like St. George's Republican Rep. Stephen Urquhart ignore the impact the establishment of a new program that competes with transportation, health care, etc., for funding will have on their constituents as St. George's rapid growth continues and demands for these services become more urgent.
We cannot afford to ignore the significant demands our education, health care and transportation systems face in the name of conducting risky taxpayer funded experiments intended to promote private education academies. Our continued economic growth depends upon investing our state resources wisely, not adopting programs developed in right-wing think tanks and promoted with the donations of large out of state corporations.
Utah Democrats such as Congressman Jim Matheson have represented southern Utah well. He has been an outspoken critic of Bush administration proposals such as the recently canceled Divine Strake test and has introduced legislation to prevent a repeat of Utah's tragic experience with nuclear testing. Congressman Matheson has also been a strong voice in Congress for a return to fiscal responsibility, a value Utahns share.
Our party's history of standing up for education, fiscal responsibility, and strengthening working families represents the kind of visionary leadership Utah's Dixie needs as it faces the future. This weekend State Sen. Pat Jones will be joining me and other Utah Democrats at the Washington and Iron County conventions. We invite voters to join us and learn more about our party.
Wayne Holland is the chairman of the Utah State Democratic Party