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Monday, October 31, 2005

The House is Haunted

Rumors have long circulated that the Utah House of Representatives is haunted. While we typically are skeptical of such nonsense, a spooky body of evidence has coagulated over the past several months…

* The bell at the front desk has been known to ring when no one is around.

* The apparition of Dave Stewart can still be seen lurking in the corridors of the House, even though the session has been over for almost eight months.

* If you blur your eyes at a John Dougall blog, you can see the ghostly image of James Madison doing the Macarena.

* A copy of the Legacy Parkway Agreement is floating around House offices, scaring state reps.

* Jeff Alexander has been seen sticking pins in voodoo dolls of senators.

* Lobbyists are getting dressed up, knocking on the doors and asking for treats.

* All House action takes place in a spooky basement catacomb.

* The Jones-Mascaro Bill keeps rising from the dead.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Radio Waves

Bob Bernick reveals the seamy underworld of Utah Senators on the radio.

In other news, the Tax Reform Task Force wrapped up their statewide series of public hearings last night. You can read The Spectrum’s report here.

The Task Force will reconvene on November 2nd and again on November 7th to finalize their proposals. The crystal ball in the senate closet indicates Governor Huntsman’s plan and Representative Urqhart’s proposal (or some slight modification of either) seem to have momentum. Of course it's too early to know exactly what the Task Force will recommend.

We are grateful to all Utah citizens who have become actively engaged in this process.

Call anytime.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Retirement Issues

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations

I recently turned 65. My birthday stirred memories of the day my father turned 65. He was forced to quit his long time job as a field man for Del Monte here in Cache Valley. He and mother then enjoyed 11 years of moving to Mesa every winter and back here for the summer.

I can’t imagine leaving work because of my age. With the high cost of health insurance and inflating cost of everything else we buy, most of the retirement plans we accepted when we were in our 20s are grossly under funded for the lifestyle to which we are now accustomed.

One of the legislature’s significant responsibilities is to prepare and approve a state budget. Working on this process, I’ve been thinking about a recent talk I read by a demographer regarding the changing population in America and throughout the world. The average age is increasing because fewer children are being born and we are living longer now than ever before.

An aging population is causing serious problems with funding defined benefits programs. These programs are based on life span projections that have turned out to be too short. Therefore, the state or the employer has to make up the difference. I expect a sizeable need this next fiscal year to add more money to our defined benefits program just to keep it solvent. That will be a challenge because we need all the money we can get to meet increasing costs for current employees’ salaries and health insurance benefits.

We may need people to work longer before they retire and move toward using more defined contribution plans rather than defined benefits programs.

These are challenging issues, but I believe we will find solutions. As always, I would appreciate your thoughts.

Federalism Reloaded

Students of political power will want to read this UPD piece on federalism and the modern presidency. Scan down the left-hand column to find the title: Is the Job of President of the United States Still Doable?

Worth pondering.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

In Memory . . .

"I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear."

"Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others."

Rosa Lee Parks
February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

Times They Are A-Changin'

So how often does the Deseret Morning News quote Dylan? (And I don’t mean Dylan Thomas.)

See the final line of today’s editorial.

The opinion is a good one. Problem is, the Utah Senate was criticized for a stance that isn’t ours. Depending on the final wording, we think most of our senators will approve the Legacy Parkway Agreement, even if they have to hold their nose while doing so.

Jennifer Dobner got it right.

We might respectfully submit a bit of advice to the venerable editorial board, also from Dylan:
. . . keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
Keep paying attention… and check the AP wire more often.

Tax Reform Op-Ed

By John L. Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Each year the Utah House and Senate wrestle with balancing multi-billion dollar budgets to meet the needs of our state. Like most families in the state, we make tough choices on what we can and cannot afford. Many of those decisions are heartbreaking.

We are also charged with maintaining a tax code that provides sufficient funding without overburdening citizens. It’s not easy work, but most legislators bring unique, helpful expertise and consider the responsibility an honor.

What we don’t have is the dubious luxury of obsession over a few points of the tax code as if they were the solitary measure of prudent policy. We have to view the budget panorama in its entirety, and make decisions based on the big picture.

In an editorial last Sunday [10/16/05], the Daily Herald waxed indignant over the fact that the Legislature’s Tax Reform Task Force recommended against adding a tax to professional services and will probably keep the sales tax on food.

It’s true that Utah taxes food. We spend millions of dollars advertising the beauties of Utah to attract visitors. Visitors buy groceries. This generates a significant source of income for the state. Moab, for example, has no need for a property tax. The tax on food - almost all of it from tourists - funds what they need to run their city.

However, it is also a fact that a tax on food may create an unfairly heavy tax burden on the poor, because the grocery budget makes up a larger percentage of their income.

I believe there is a solution to this dilemma. I strongly favor a tax credit that refunds the amount low income families spend on grocery sales tax.

This proposal was suggested by Utah Issues, a low income advocacy group, and I think it is a good, solid solution. The sales tax on food is only considered regressive because of its impact on people with low income. A grocery tax refund focuses tax relief where we need it most.

Combine this proposal with Governor Huntsman’s recommendation of a $12,000 joint filing exemption and a $4,000 per person personal exemption, and you have a workable tax reform proposal that would provide adequate funding without harming the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

We also scrutinized taxing a broader range of services. Although intelligent people disagree on this issue, our judgment was there were too many fatal complications inherent in that proposal. One difficulty was drawing clear lines between what is and isn’t a business transaction. Another was that medical, hospital and dental services would comprise over 60 percent of the new tax under this proposal. In light of the value of these services, we didn’t feel like this was a good policy choice. Florida recently expanded their tax into services but recognized the swamp into which they had stepped and retracted that tax a year later.

If you are looking for a new way to share the tax burden, you have to look at the tax system in its totality. Focusing on a few small pieces and ignoring the big picture doesn’t make for good policy decisions.

The Daily Herald Editorial last Sunday opined it is “still theoretically possible to do the right thing.” Then they said, “We’re not holding our breath,” as if they understood fully the motivations and thoughts of your elected representatives. Major proposals are on the table and we are all working diligently and sincerely to do our best to make decisions that are smart, equitable, and effective for the state of Utah.

Our state is recognized as one of the best financially managed states in the nation. We are sincerely committed to responsible fiscal management, while encouraging the kind of society and economy in which we want to live (stable homes, healthy economy, thriving religious and charitable community, etc.).

The Tax Reform Task Force is considering major changes to the Utah Tax Code. We will be taking citizen input in Provo, on Oct 26, at 6:00 p.m., at Dixon Middle School (750 West 200 North). Please visit www.senatesite.com for more information.

We encourage all to attend.

[This op-ed piece was written for and published in yesterday’s Daily Herald.]

LaVarr on Tax Reform

LaVarr Webb wrote a thoughtful, informative piece on Tax Reform in yesterday's Deseret Morning News. Worth reading if you're interested in the work of the Tax Reform Task Force. Here are a few exerpts:
"... I believe this has been one of the most intense, detailed and comprehensive examinations of a particular area of public policy in Utah history. So, with all of that study and effort, will anything substantive come of it? I believe the answer is yes, but it may not be revolutionary."

"What will emerge won't necessarily be the Huntsman plan, or the Jones-Mascaro plan, or the Olene Walker plan or the Bramble-Harper plan. It will be the best and most workable elements from all of those plans."

"Lowering the sales tax rate and broadening the base by taxing services is not likely, partly because the vast majority of taxable services would be medical services, and it doesn't make sense to add a tax on top of already soaring medical costs."

"When all is said and done, changes in Utah's tax structure may not be revolutionary or dramatic, but the exercise will have been worthwhile. Each provision will have been scrutinized, tested and justified. If the ultimate conclusion is that Utah's structure isn't so bad after all, that its provisions are there for good reason, that outcome will be just fine."
Read the entire column at http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,635154947,00.html.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Legacy Parkway Talks

If you're following the Legacy Parkway Saga, you'll want to read the Associated Press Story, posted an hour and a half ago on KUTV.com.

Incisive reporting.

Utah’s Winning Women

By Carlene Walker

The Utah Republican Women'’s PAC held its inaugural gala last night on the 23rd floor of the Wells Fargo Building.

Rabbi Benny Zippel offered a prayer for the event and recounted the story of a family in his community whose son came home and announced he had been assigned a part in the school play. His mom asked him what role they gave him. The boy said, they want me to play the part of a Jewish Husband. His mom told him, "“Go back and tell your teacher you want a speaking part!"”

Women have more voice in political circles than ever before, and, interestingly, we are declining to be confined to traditional women's issues’ (think Rep. Sheryl Allen on world trade matters and Senator Beverly Evans on oil & gas severance tax in the Uintah Basin).

Marreen Casper, Yvette Donosso Diaz, and Laura Clarke Bridgewater were honored with the 2005 Utah'’s Winning Women Award.

Founders Awards were presented to John and Marcia Price and Frank Suitter -– incredible supporters of women in politics.

We were privileged to welcome the Governor and the Lt. Governor as well as many state legislators, other elected officials and so many significant contributors from the political community. It was heartening to me to hear feedback on what a progressive, effective organization this is.

Thank you to all who are so supportive of women in politics. And thank you to our many women in training who will soon enter the world of politics and make magnificent contributions. If you are a woman who may someday want to run for office - or if you just want to become more involved in the community -– please give me a call.

You can read more about our organization on my previous blog.

Justice For All

Today’s Deseret Morning News Editorial is worth reading.
When the Pledge of Allegiance says "justice for all," it is not only referring to the outcast and disenfranchised who in other nations have no recourse to justice, it refers to anyone — movie star, mogul or congressional mover — who gets flying high and feels he has risen above the lowly machinery of the American judicial system....

Americans don't need a "patron" — a person in high places to watch out for their best interest. They have a document, The Bill of Rights, to do that. Principle — not people — is the bottom line when it comes to criminal cases.
No one here thinks it’s acceptable when people trusted with great responsibility abuse that trust. (We’ll wait for the courts to scrutinize the evidence and discover if that, in fact, has occurred in the DeLay case.) It does, however, make us proud and grateful to live in a land constitutionally devoted to good principles, not human personalities.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

D.C. to Manage Utah Disasters?

Good old fashioned federalism takes center stage today. Again. Read the story at Stateline.org.

You can also see some great quotes from the nation’s governors on the issue.

Legacy Negotiations

Senator Sheldon Killpack on the Legacy Parkway:
"It is not a done deal," said state Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, who helped negotiate the settlement announced last month. "I think there is probably a little bit of a misperception out there that this is going to be a quick walk in the park and that everybody is whistling Dixie. I just know personally that that is not the case."
Read Matt Canham’s Legacy deal now faces obstacles in Legislature in today's Tribune.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tax Reform Hearing

If you missed tonight's public hearing on tax reform, you can listen to the audio here.

GRAMA Task Force

By Dave Thomas
District 18 Senator and Chair of the GRAMA Task Force

There appears to be some confusion about the work of the Government Records Access and Management (GRAMA) Task Force. To help clear the air, let me offer the following:

1. The Task Force was directed to do a thorough review of Utah's GRAMA law, which has not seen a comprehensive review in almost 15 years. Our purpose was not to just tinker with few items and move on. A legislator can do that with a simple bill. A task force carries a larger scope and responsibility.

2. Current legislative counsel’s interpretation of GRAMA is that E-mail messages, unless printed, are not “records” and are not subject to GRAMA. That is the current law. The GRAMA Task Force has proposed changing the law by OPENING most E-mail up to GRAMA requests, with the exceptions of E-mail between legislators and their staff, and E-mail between legislators and their constituents. This provision would apply not just to the Utah State Legislature, but to all local legislative bodies. There are two reasons for proposing these exceptions. First, we want to encourage open discussion between legislators and their staff. Second, we want to encourage public contact with their legislator without the fear that a citizen’s privacy will be invaded.

3. A grand total of three GRAMA cases have been decided in our appellate courts. Consequently, GRAMA law is not well developed in Utah. Why? Partly because everyone can forum shop their GRAMA questions, picking the court in which to file or whether to go to the State Records Committee. We need to bring some order to the chaos. One way to do this is to centralize all appeals and allow that appellate authority to develop a consistent body of law in this area. A leading proposal is that we direct all GRAMA disputes to the State Records Committee.

4. Finally, there is an undefined area in GRAMA with respect to the compilation of data and charging fees. Some jurisdictions refuse to make compilations, others make compilations and charge costs, and still others provide compilations and charge fair market value. The Task Force appears to be leaning in the direction of making compilations optional and allowing reasonable fees so long as government is not directly competing with private business.

The GRAMA Task Force will meet one more time in November. We welcome any and all public input.

New Judge in Town

The Utah Senate just confirmed John J. Walton, as a Judge of the Fifth District Court.

The vote was unanimous.

Listen to the confirmation. The real discussion starts about six minutes (6:00) into the session.

Senator Chris Buttars: 7:05 to 7:40

Senator Lyle Hillyard: 7:40 to 9:50

11:19 to 15:19

Senator Bill Hickman:
15:46 to 17:30
If you don't have RealPlayer you can download it for free.

Public Hearing in Salt Lake City

The Tax Reform Task Force is holding their second public hearing on tax reform proposals TONIGHT,
October 19, 2005 at 5:30 p.m.
Room W135
Utah State Capitol, West Building
Salt Lake City, Utah.
The West Building is directly east of the old rock church, and to the northwest of the Capitol Building, now under renovation. Please call the Senate if you need more specific directions: 801-538-1407 or 801-538-1035.

The Task Force is considering major revisions to the tax code that will impact every Utah citizen. Information on all current proposals will be available at the meeting.

More information on the tax reform hearings.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Resolution in Support of Legacy

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce passed a Resolution in support of the Legacy Parkway Agreement In Principle (text below).

See Sheldon Killpack’s Legacy Parkway Blog for more information. The plaintiffs, UDOT, and the legislative working group are currently engaged in discussions to work out the details of a final agreement. The final agreement will be considered by the legislature - perhaps as early as a Special Session in November.


WHEREAS: The Salt Lake Chamber has gone on record and adopted a previous resolution supporting construction of the Legacy Parkway and hereby reaffirms that support; and

WHEREAS: The Salt Lake Chamber has been, and continues to be, a vocal and pro-active proponent of improvements to Utah’s transportation infrastructure that boost safety, enhance efficiency, increase mobility, and foster economic development, growth, and commerce; and

WHEREAS: the plaintiffs have sued the State of Utah to stop or otherwise severely restrict the construction of the proposed Legacy Parkway, resulting in lost-time, waste of taxpayer funds, and environmental degradation resulting from a grid-locked I-15 which has in effect been a tax on our economic vitality and our quality of life; and

WHEREAS: the Chamber supports a healthy balance between economic development and environmental protection; and

WHEREAS: The State of Utah recently entered into an agreement-in-principle with the plaintiffs to end the litigation and allow construction to proceed; and

WHEREAS: The agreement-in-principle includes some restrictions and provisions that the Chamber deems detrimental to economic development, growth, and commerce including a prohibition of trucks using Legacy Parkway; and

WHEREAS: Unfettered mobility by the trucking industry is crucial to the distribution of supplies, provisions, materials, products and equipment on which robust commerce and a strong economy depends; and

WHEREAS: Despite the unfortunate prohibition of large trucks on Legacy Parkway, the Salt Lake Chamber recognizes the overall benefits provided by the Legacy Parkway and recognizes that negotiations with the plaintiffs will expedite the project; and

WHEREAS: Further delays and additional litigation are unacceptable, as they would add several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That the Salt Lake Chamber supports a negotiated agreement that ends litigation so the Legacy Parkway project can immediately move forward;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the Chamber encourages those negotiating a final agreement to recognize the importance of highway freight traffic to the economy as well as the special needs of local delivery and craft a final agreement which acknowledges that fact;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the Chamber strongly encourages the Legislature to adopt the final agreement in special session so the Legacy Parkway project can proceed.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Early Budget Approval?

By Lyle Hillyard
District 25 Senator, and Executive Appropriations Committee Co-Chair

We are considering the use of a budgeting process that seemed to work very well last year. Near the middle of the 2005 Session, the Utah House and Senate passed a bill that funded about 90% of the state budget. These were the non-controversial items most of us felt obviously needed to be funded.

That left the remaining requests – and the money we had left to spend - clearly in focus. This year we might do the same thing, but earlier. Maybe even by the second week of session.

An early approval of the base budget will prevent anyone with an intensely desired project from holding the total state budget hostage at the end of session. It will move the simple tasks out of the way – and allow subcommittees to concentrate on the tougher issues they need to debate and decide.

Our appropriations subcommittees are now fairly seasoned in their roles. They all have a minimum of one year's experience with their agencies and budgets. In many cases they have much more.

We plan to send all bills that appropriate money for a specific project (which are NOT part of the early base budget) to the proper subcommittee - and avoid the phenomenon of the Executive Appropriations Committee making late-session add-ons without proper subcommittee consideration and prioritization.

Budget requests should be compared and prioritized by the subcommittee best suited to see the request in perspective. If a lobbyist or special interest group approaches me and asks me to fund a project by adding it into a budget bill, I will recommend that he or she talk to the subcommittee chair over that area of state government - so it can be prioritized with other like requests.

Wouldn’t it be great if the budget was decided early? With only the contested items remaining we may find the final few days of session to be much less stressful. An additional benefit is that we empower our subcommittees, who really are in the best position to make informed, balanced decisions on budget priorities.

What I've written here are my thoughts as of right now. On Monday afternoon, the Legislative Process Committee will be meeting to give further consideration to these issues. Perhaps I’ll have a new perspective after the discussion.

Anyone wishing to attend can come to the West Building of the Utah State Capitol Campus. We’ll be meeting in room W130 at 2:00 p.m.

You can also listen in via our on-line audio stream.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Arab League Visit

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

We were honored today by a visit from Hussein Hassouna, Ambassador to the U.S. for the League of Arab States. He and his wife spent several days in Utah meeting with public officials, religious leaders, professors, and students. They were even able to take in a football game!

One of the interesting things he mentioned is that the Arab League favors democracy, but it must make sense in the context of their experience. It cannot be foreign and it cannot be forced.

I wonder what the differences would be between an American-style democracy and an Arab democracy, appropriate to their history and culture. Food for thought.

The Senate was honored by the Arab League's visit and we wish Ambassador Hassouna and his family well in their travels.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Garden Work

By Lyle Hillyard
District 25: Cache and Rich Counties

As the days turn colder and I am busy completing my garden work for the year, I have to stop and wonder why being a gardener brings such enjoyment. I grew up on a small farm in Smithfield and there was always work to be done, but gardening was not one of the tasks I enjoyed.

When I married Alice, however, her father had a large garden next to the family home and I never turned down a chance to work there.

So much of my work as an attorney and legislator leaves me feeling like I have not accomplished anything immediate - but one hour in the garden quickly shows the impact of my efforts. There is also something about working in the quiet time of early morning or just as it is getting dark. There is nothing like “new potatoes”, fresh corn on the cob, tomatoes, or raspberries all freshly picked and eaten.

When my brother-in-law left the valley to serve a mission I needed assistance in the garden. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find college students willing to put in the time needed. None of them lasted very long. Maybe it is too easy to just go to the store and buy what you want. There really is a difference, however, between what you grow and what you can buy.

Most of the old garden spots near my garden area have been abandoned because people think they are too much work. Be that as it may, I know that I will find a lot of new friends if the grocery stores ever run short of food.

Tax Reform Public Hearings

Published in today’s Utah Policy Daily:
The Utah Tax Reform Task Force is holding six public hearings in October and encourages all Utahns to attend, ask questions, and give thoughtful feedback on the various proposals. The Task Force is considering major revisions to the tax code, including property tax reductions, reallocation of sales tax revenues, corporate tax adjustments, and lowering the state income tax rate along with elimination of certain exemptions and deductions. All Utah citizens will be impacted. See the UPD calendar for times and places of the hearings, starting Oct. 19 in SLC. Agendas, minutes, and audio recordings of Tax Reform Task Force meetings are available by clicking here. Information on all task force proposals will be available at each of the public hearings.
Utah's newspapers on tax reform:
Standard Examiner: Task force to present 4 new tax proposals

Daily Herald / AP: Legislative task force votes to keep mortgage deduction

Deseret Morning News: State taxes could climb for those with big debts

Salt Lake Tribune: Flat-tax plan starts to show a few bulges
As mentioned above: agendas, minutes, and audio recordings of Tax Reform Task Force meetings are available at http://le.utah.gov/asp/interim/Commit.asp?Year=2005&Com=TSKTRT .

Click here to view the Public Hearing Calendar.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Best State Site in the Nation

Brown University distinguished Utah.gov as the best state site in the nation, selected from a pool of over 1,559 government sites nationwide. From the state website:
Utah.gov is, hands down, the best state government Web site in the nation. In Brown University's sixth annual study of state and federal eGovernment performance, Utah's official Web site earned the highest ranking in the country, up from third place last year.
The National Conference of State Legislatures recently singled out the Utah Legislature as having the best legislative site in the nation.

Appropriate and well-deserved honors for a tech savvy state with more computers per capita than anywhere else in the nation.
Read a summary of the Brown University study.

See Rebecca Walsh's blurb in today’s Tribune.

Visit Utah.gov.
Congratulations to the executive branch for a job well done.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Western Primary: Press Release

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's Office just issued this press release.

Western Primary: February 5th

This just in…

Utah and New Mexico will pursue a Presidential Preference Primary on February 5th, 2008. Arizona already holds their primary on that day. Other states in the Intermountain West are actively discussing joining the coalition.

Utah State Democratic Party Chair Wayne Holland, and Republican Party Chair Joe Cannon will now take the initiative to their respective party central committees.

The parties need to decide if they will make the results of this primary binding upon their delegates. As you probably know, the state provides the platform (time, place, voting equipment, vote count resources, etc.) for presidential primaries, but it is up to the parties to choose if they will participate.

The legislature will also have to approve the new date.

We sincerely appreciate the leadership and teamwork of Governors Huntsman and Richardson on this issue.

Why a Western Primary?

Western States Primary

Senate President John Valentine and Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich are in Santa Fe this morning with Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. discussing a Western State’s Primary with Governor Bill Richardson and other officials in New Mexico.

The Issue (in a nutshell):

The people and land of the American West contribute unique strength to this nation. We tend to be a functional, paradoxical blend of fierce independence and community spirit, an interesting mix of urban, suburban, rural, and vast natural beauty, the wealth of innovation joined with the strength of tradition.

We also struggle with serious national issues – public lands, roads, water, immigration, NCLB, outside nuclear waste, and old fashioned federalism, to name just a few.

Yet, for all the strength of the West and our significant collection of electoral votes, the only contact most westerners have with presidential aspirants is viewing their jet trails in the sunset as they fly from coast to coast.

It’s easy to imagine how the lack of friendly contact might skew a candidate’s views. Watching, disconnected, from an airplane window, candidates and staffers could easily fall into viewing the West as a sparsely populated area to ignore or exploit, which tends to show up in policy initiatives that deal poorly with the unique character of the place.

Effective leaders need ground truth. What may work for people on the east coast can be strikingly out of context here. America deserves a little better.

Divided we fall. We think it’s time to put the American West on the map in terms of presidential primaries.

Senate Leadership views a potential partnership between Utah and New Mexico as a good first step. John Valentine had a very positive conversation with New Mexico Senate President Ben Altaramirano in China last month and looks forward to continuing the discussion today.

Following today's discussions, they plan to hold a press conference.

This movement, by the way, cuts across Red State / Blue State lines. Bob Brigham posts a good blog on topic at the blue-leaning Swing State Project site. Brigham says
“I'm a big fan of some of the Western Strategy: straight talk, bold action, populist, and authentic.”
House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander, House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, Utah State Democratic Party Chair Wayne Holland, and Utah State Republican Party Chair Joe Cannon are also part of Utah's delegation in New Mexico today. Jason Chaffetz and Mike Mower, of the Governor’s office are providing staff support.

We appreciate the Governor for his leadership on this issue.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Inside Utah (.com)

Each Friday, Jennifer Napier-Pearce posts a 30-minute audio synopsis & analysis of the news in Utah. Check it out at www.insideutah.com.

This week’s report includes a discussion on state vehicle use and abuse – a subject on which we’ve received more than a few E-mail messages. Senator Greg Bell shares perspective on fleet policy (four and a half minutes into the program). Click here for the MP3 clip.

Last week (9/30 - Podcast #14) Senator Al Mansell discussed his assessment of the housing market in Utah. You probably don’t want to miss it; Al Mansell is former president of the Utah State Senate and currently serves as President of the National Association of Realtors. Listen to the MP3 clip here. If you have RealPlayer, you can click here.

Good stuff.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Streamlined Sales Tax

By Senator Lyle Hillyard
District 25

I thought some of our blog readers might appreciate a short update on the progress of Streamlined Sales Tax (SST).

For anyone new to the issue, SST aims to modernize our sales and use tax systems to keep up with changes in technology and the explosion of Internet commerce.This is vital because sales and use taxes generate almost one-third of state budgets nationwide. In Utah this means funding for corrections, human services, and supplemental funding for higher education and the general education funds.

We’re also trying to develop uniform applications so businesses selling to out of state buyers will have consistency in how they are treated. SST will simplify the collection of sales tax across state lines. It would provide a more level playing field for "Main Street" businesses and remote sellers as more and more buyers purchase from internet retailers.

Another big reason for SST is old fashioned federalism. When we effectively adapt to a changing world at the state level, the federal government is less likely to try to take over our work.

A report I received at NCSL’s Annual Meeting in Seattle indicated many of the issues that required fine-tuning are being resolved as people focus on the goal of more uniform sales tax laws.

One of the persistent sticky issues had to do with how businesses might outsource their collections in the new system. It turns out that there are at least eight sourcing providers who are ready and able to collect for a business at no cost to that business. The providers’ costs could be recovered by allocating a small reimbursement from the total taxes they collect. Utah allows for compensation at 1.33 percent.

The providers are waiting, however, for the participating states to agree on uniform compensation levels before finalizing their proposals. Some states are struggling because they do not allow companies that collect sales tax to be paid for their work. Our group has consistently contended reimbursement of sourcing providers is an essential part of the SST program.

There seems to be some movement in Congress to tie approval of SST with a Federal Business Activity Tax bill which would remove the ability of states to tax the income of national businesses unless they have a physical presence in that state. The supporters of this idea who presented in Seattle, however, assured us that they saw no tie with SST and the two concepts should stand alone.

The SST subcommittee charged with setting a uniform reimbursement level realizes the urgency of setting that rate. I expect their recommendations to be out shortly. When they do it will go through an approval process in the working group of SST states. The report I received is that the sourcing providers could live with Utah’s reimbursement percentage level – and hope to persuade the non reimbursing states to adopt a similar percentage.

Utah’s representatives on the working group are Rep. Wayne Harper, Jim Olsen, of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, Commissioner Bruce Johnson, and myself.

Anyone interested in SST can find more information at
I would appreciate thoughtful feedback on this issue.

Best regards,

Lyle Hillyard
State Senator, District 25

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tax Reform Proposal

Governor Huntsman presented his proposal to the Tax Reform Task Force today. You can view his press release and supporting materials at http://www.utah.gov/governor/news/2005/news_10_05a_05.html.

There is a lot to like about this proposal. It would create a flatter simpler tax at a lower rate. There are also challenges. The proposed cap on dependency exemptions, for example, will have difficulty winning enough support in the legislature. However, at this point many members of the Task Force are optimistic.

We appreciate the hard work the governor and his staff have invested. Neil Ashdown and Mike Mower, particularly, have been stellar. The efforts of the governor’s tax advisors, also known as the “Brain Trust” (Gary Cornia, Keith Prescott, and Ray Nelson) have also been outstanding.

The Tax Reform Task Force will take up the proposal again on the 12th. In the meantime they have instructed legislative staff to begin working with the Governor’s tax advisors to produce a draft bill.

Senator Greg Bell also submitted a tax reform plan, for which the Task Force will take public comment on October 12th.

You can voice your perspective by contacting your legislator and attending any of the upcoming public meetings.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Midday Metro Interview

KCPW's Midday Metro featured an interesting, wide-ranging conversation between Lara Jones and Utah State Senate President John Valentine.

They discussed the potential special session, a base budget for the upcoming legislative session, tax reform, potential tax cuts, the two-party system in Utah, the new Senate blog site, and John's experience in the People’s Republic of China.

If you missed it this morning you can still listen to the interview on KCPW’s website. (Scroll down to the Tuesday, October 3rd entry and click the play button under "Utah Politics.")

Podcasters can click here to download the MP3 clip.

Primary Election Today

Remember to make time to vote. Polls will be open today until 8:00 p.m. Contact your city recorder’s office for information on local races and polling places.
Hot issues and races on primary ballots in cities across state

Deseret Morning News Editorial

Salt Lake Tribune List of Primary Election Candidates

KCPW Elections Coverage Page

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dmitrich nears record on Hill

In case you missed it, the Deseret Morning News published a great profile on Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich this morning.

Public Hearings on Tax Reform

Here are the times and locations of the upcoming Tax Reform Task Force Public Hearings:

October 19, 2005 at 5:30 p.m.
Utah State Capitol, West Building

October 25, 2005 at 12:00 p.m.
Western Park, 300 East 200 South

October 25, 2005 at 6:00 p.m.
County Commission Chambers, 120 East Main

Oct 26, 2005 at 6:00 p.m.
Dixon Middle School, 750 West 200 North

Oct 27, 2005 at 12:00 p.m.
Cedar City Chambers (Old Post Office), 10 North Main

October 27, 2005 at 6:00 p.m.
Washington County Commission Chambers, 197 East Tabernacle Street
We encourage all interested parties to make time to attend and give the task force the benefit of your insight. Microphones will be set up for attendees to offer comments and ask questions of task force members. As stated in a previous blog, every group and individual with an interest in Utah's tax structure should be actively engaged in this discussion.

Click here for more information on the Tax Reform Task Force.

Task force staffers Phil Dean andBryant Howe can help answer questions on these public hearings: (801) 538-1032.

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