In Praise of Utah

I sat through a series of sessions held with legislators today in Utah, and I must say I was pretty impressed with the fiscal sanity that has ruled this state through the last 10 years, and saw it successfully through the recent downturn.  When tax revenues were up last decade, they were doing crazy, nutty things like actually building up their rainy day fund.  And they are already talking this year about contributing to rather than withdrawing from this fund.  They still do silly politician-stuff (the law to name a state gun comes to mind) but overall a good session, facilitated by a terrific, scrappy group called the Utah Taxpayers Association.  These guys had the governor, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and numerous legislators participating.  I am not sure our larger and much better funded Goldwater Institute in AZ could do as well.

As an added bonus, I found myself sitting with a talking to Billy Casper, two-time winner of the US Open and Master Champion.  Turns out Mr. Casper is in roughly the same business I am, lending his name and time to a large firm that privately manages public golf courses.

Bonus Utah Observation:  You would expect a state with a large LDS influence to have oddities in its alcohol laws, but other than state-run liquor stores (which can be found in a number of other states, alas) I observed nothing too odd.  What I had not thought about was coffee.  There are very few Starbucks here, due in large part to LDS prohibitions on caffeine.  I know a lot of software firms moved here -- I wonder how they even function without large supplies of Mountain Dew Code Red?

Oh, and I know you don't think BBQ in Utah, but Pat's is freaking awesome.  My competitor who is based on the area was nice enough to buy me lunch.  And just in time, as about an hour later it was announced I had just won a large contract from him.


  1. wintercow20:

    Nice points all ... we need a Utah Taxpayers Association in NY. In any case, I noticed one oddball law when in Southern Utah recently... the beer that we were able to get had less alcohol in it - I think like 3% ABV.

  2. I Got Bupkis, Critic Extraordinaire:

    >>> They still do silly politician-stuff (the law to name a state gun comes to mind)

    Oh, come on. That's not that bad. It's nothing compared to, say, what happened in Kansas and Iowa.

    As it was told to me --

    For some reason Kansas's legislature produced something declaring that the Goldfinch was a "public nuisance". Now, the Goldfinch happens to be Iowa's "State Bird".

    So the Iowa legislators retaliated in kind: They declared the Sunflower (the KS "State Flower") to be a "noxious weed".

    Your State Legislators in action, dealing with the important issues of the day! So there! Nyeah!

    This must've happened at least 20-30 years ago. But it's always stuck in my mind regarding absurdities of government.

  3. Scott:

    Having worked at software company in Utah, I can say there was plenty of caffeine. In fact Utah has a better selection of caffeinated sodas than I've found out here in Virginia (e.g. Diet Mountain Dew in 1 liter is very hard to find here, cherry coke zero in 20oz).

    The LDS church does not say anything to prohibit caffeine specifically. Coffee and tea are prohibited and people are encouraged to consume things that are good for their health, which disqualifies caffeine, but it's up to individuals to decide how well they're going to take care of their body and whether to consume caffeine, mcnuggets, or broccoli.

  4. David:

    I lived in Utah for a decade, and there is no better place in the US to get a flat tire: people will trip over each other to help you. It has beautiful scenery, and a wholesome pleasantness which is quite odd to those of us from the East coast.

    The caffeine thing comes from the LDS Doctrine & Covenants (D&C, not to be confused with anything else by those initials), where followers are told to eschew "wine and strong drinks". "Strong" was taken to mean "medicinal", and that eventually morphed in LDS culture into "stimulative" and then into "coffee and tea" and from there to "caffeine." I saw a *huge* range of practice and interpretation of those prohibitions. However, most Mormons will agree that coffee is disfavored. This wouldn't make Starbucks prohibited, but would just mean that there wouldn't be as big a market as there would be in other cities.

    In a place where drinking coffee is a mild act of rebellion, the rebellious have a great time: "SLC Punk" does a decent job capturing the energy of the 80s/90s punk scene there (surprisingly good music).

    Lovely place, lovely people. I prefer a more hectic pace, but remember Utah quite fondly.

  5. morganovich:

    i moved to park city a year ago from san francisco, so you can image the shift in politics. it seems much saner and more sensible here. being a libertarian is seen as sensible as opposed to a mental disorder and ideas like "save for a rainy day" and "don't spend more than you have" seem well entrenched. so is private charity.

    alas, utah is not entirely free of idiocy:

  6. Orion:

    Utah beer is mandated no more than 3.2% alcohol. Bars get around the weak beer by serving a shot (machine measured by law) and a beer for one price. I'll be in Utah 1 week from today. It better snow. Or...I'll spend more time drinking.

    And up until right this minute I thought I might be the only person alive who both saw and enjoyed "SLC Punk".

  7. aeronathan:

    Saving money? By george, What will those crazy Mormons think of next?

  8. morganovich:


    that's not true.

    only beer sold at supermarkets is limited to 3.2%.

    beer at bars/restaurants/liquor stores has no such limit.

    wasatch brewing's "devastator" is 8% and available all over the place.


    if you want some great utah booze, try the high west distillery in park city.

    they make excellent rye.

  9. Arthur Felter:

    Orion: I hope you don't ski/snowboard, cause the resorts here haven't gotten very much snow. And if it does snow, don't plan on going: the resorts would be an absolute zoo because everyone will be out to get some of the only snow we've gotten this year.

  10. morganovich:


    PC is still a bit sparse, but the guys in little cottonwood (alta, snowbird) just got a couple of feet with more one the way.

  11. ElamBend:

    I love how this thread became a snow report. It's been a tough year for the ski bums. Some friends of mine just skied on the real stuff in Monmouth after spending a couple of weeks there twiddling their thumbs.

  12. Orion:

    Once you book the flight you're committed regardless of weather. Meh, it'll still be fun. Conditions have improved drastically in the past week (36" snow in the big canyon over 3 days). I've had the High West Rye and it was awe inspiring.

  13. rst1317:

    Utah's not an oddball but what state isnt' an oddball. Minnesota still bans sunday sales and has a offsale hours law based on distance from MPLS and STPL ( stores in the cities can only be open until 8pm; further out, later ). MPLS and STPL still have quite a few bars running on 3.2 licenses ( no more than 3.2% alcohol in what they're serving ). Other states force all offsale, no matter the alcohol content to occur only in state stores.

    And it's not limited to the US. In Manitoba, only hotels may sell chilled domestic beer. Beer, Wine, and Liquor only sold by government owned Liquor Marts. There are also a limited number of private wine retailers in Manitoba as well.

    Nevertheless, Utah's still a bit goofy when it comes to alcohol. Most places have licenses to don't allow the general public to buy alcohol without food. So that's why you get the private club thing where you buy your membership for the night at the door. And you get people ordering the cheapest appetizer just to get the booze. And you can't ship wine through the state without being a distributor. You'll find that's why FedEx ( air ) will ship wine while, IIRC, UPS limits it to routes that don't involve going across Utah.

    Oooh! Now there would be a fun way of pushing for social change. Set up a nonprofit that allows people to order food but immediately donate the food to the needy. It could be tricky but would make for plenty of publicity. I mean, how can you crack down on helping the hungry?

    Anywhoooooo....... plenty of silliness can be found here