Proposing 'tough choices' for nation

Early in December 1992, Amy L. Walton answered some questions in a telephone survey that lead to a rare opportunity for the 21-year-old. She served on a "Tough Choices" citizens panel in the nation's capital that proposed plans for cutting government spending and raising revenues.

Now a month after serving on the panel in Washington D.C., Jan. 10-14, she says that the opportunity to serve has given her a greater appreciation for elected officials and the difficulty of their job."For example, rather than being upset with them for voting for a tax increase, I might admire them for risking not being re-elected for what they think is best locally and nationally," said Sister Walton of the Salt Lake University 25th Ward, Salt Lake University 4th Stake, where she and her husband, Ryan K., attend.

She told the Church News that as a result of serving on the panel, "I'm following the issues more closely and how President Clinton deals with them."

A junior at the University of Utah majoring in communication disorders, she was among 23 other jurors selected from a random sample of American adults. Selections were based on age, education, gender, geographic locale, 1992 presidential preference, race and attitudes toward taxes and spending.

Sponsored by the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, the "Tough Choices" citizens jury met to "get a consensus of what Americans thought of the economy and the budget, and the sacrifices they are willing to make as Americans - and the sacrifices President Clinton should ask Americans to make," Sister Walton explained.

Panelists discussed national defense; physical infrastructure, such as roads, buildings and housing; social infrastructure, such as welfare, daycare and job training; Social Security; health care; and other topics, such as farm subsidies, research and development.

For the first two days of meetings, panel members watched presentations on such issues as the budget deficit. Sister Walton, who is a data-entry operator for magazine subscriptions in the Church's Curriculum Department, said, "I've gotten more of a scope of how much money is involved in operating this nation. I had no idea before serving on the panel."

On the third day, panelists broke into smaller groups to discuss the issues. "We discussed where we'd cut money. We made mini-budgets," Sister Walton explained.

In addition, U.S. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., attended an afternoon session and answered questions on President Clinton's platform. On the final day, the panel proposed plans for cutting spending and raising revenues.

She said Sen. Pryor invited the panelists to return to Washington, D.C., soon and present their recommendations to the Senate Finance Committee, of which he is a member. Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., chairman of the House Budget Committee, told the panelists he would extend a similar invitation. Neither committee has met since President Clinton's inauguration.

When she was chosen for the jury, Sister Walton said she felt unprepared, but "flattered that I had the characteristics of someone the Jefferson Center would want to hear from. I was flattered to represent my culture, my religion, my age group, and Utah. I was given the opportunity to voice my opinion."

She related that the experience was "unreal. I felt engulfed in different cultures. During the panel, I sat between an elderly man from Michigan and a mother of two from Iowa."

Continuing, she said: "At one time, we were talking about gas taxes. This woman from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn't have a problem with gas taxes because her means of transportation was public transportation. She had a hard time understanding my point of view; I live in an area where we drive all the time. I learned people from different parts of the country have different priorities."

Serving on the panel also acquainted Sister Walton with some of the fears Americans have concerning the future. "I think Americans are afraid of economic ruin, that we'll be in so much debt we won't be able to recover. Another fear was that Social Security would collapse, that there will be no support for our generation when we are retired."

She said for her the gospel gives strength to face these potential challenges. "Faith in the gospel is calming. If I have faith in the gospel, I have faith in my future. If I follow gospel principles and live the commandments, I don't need to worry as much. Not that I won't have trials, but I'll have the support I need to get through them."

To prepare for the panel, Sister Walton said she read newspapers and kept up with current events. As a result of her study and her experience with the panel, she said she realized people rely too much on the media for their information. "They don't really look into the issues," she affirmed. "When we got to Washington, we were presented with Clinton's platform. It was a lot more complete than I realized. Watching the news and reading the papers didn't spell it out. I realized how unprepared I was when I voted."

She said she now wants to help others understand the issues. "And when I have children, I can help them find out why politicians are running for office."

In addition, she related: "In the future, I hope I'll take any opportunity to get involved in my community. I want my community to be a place in which I feel comfortable, and I can't expect others to do to that for me. We have to get involved with each other and work together."

Two more citizens juries are scheduled for March and May, but new panel members will be selected for those meetings.

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