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Friday, December 30, 2005

A Lasting Return For Our Natural Resources

By Lyle Hillyard
State Senator, Cache and Rich Counties

I am going to propose an amendment to the Utah constitution this session and I would like your input.

When Utah became a state, it adopted in its constitution a trust fund to support public education called the State School Fund. Certain property and investments are held in that trust fund with the annual income being used only for public education. The principal cannot be invaded or spent. The fund has now grown to $553.8 M. In fiscal year 2005, the fund paid over $13 M in investment income to the Uniform School Fund.

When the Utah Legislature learned of the tobacco settlement, we decided that it was essentially one-time money (meaning that it could end at any time). We decided it should be invested - with the interest allocated in a variety of ways to help solve some of the medical and social problems created by the use of tobacco. That avoids the problem of devoting all the principal money to ongoing programs and finding ourselves in a bind if and when the payments end.

The legislature proposed and the voters approved an amendment to the Utah Constitution that created a new Permanent State Trust Fund. The principal payments from the tobacco settlement are deposited into this fund and the ongoing interest goes into the general fund from which these tobacco-related programs are funded. The principal may only be spent with the approval of three-fourths of the legislature and the concurrence of the governor.

In a recent Utah Tax Review Commission meeting, we decided that the severance taxes we are collecting from the removal of oil and natural gas should also be put into a constitutional trust fund. These are non-renewable resources. If they are used up and the income they generated is spent we will have nothing left for future generations. The Permanent State Trust fund is currently limited to only tobacco settlement money. My proposed amendment would allow other moneys to be put into this Trust Fund.

I will also file a bill to route the excess money we are now collecting from our severance tax - i.e. the amount above what we have usually spent - into this Trust Fund. The past level is about $35M and this year we have collected about double that. The State Treasurer assures me that he can separate the interest generated from various funding sources so we can still use income from the tobacco settlement money for tobacco-related problems and have a lasting return to benefit our children from the rich natural resources of this state as they are consumed.

This proposed constitutional amendment has been unanimously approved by the Constitution Revision Commission and the Tax Review Commission.

As always, I would appreciate your insight and suggestions.

Word From Seattle

The Seattle Times adds its voice to the discussion of a Western States’ Primary:

Give the West a bigger voice

First they send rain, then this editorial. No wonder Jimi Hendrix loves that place.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Insomnia? Try this.

You can view many of the bills in preparation for the 2006 Legislative Session at our website.

You can sort bills by senator, representative, committee, or subject. Click on All Subjects to peruse the complete list.

Building Roads

Senator Sheldon Killpack
District 21

Patty Henetz wrote a story in today's Salt Lake Tribune this morning on my proposal to partner with private contractors to construct toll highways in Utah.

Patty is a proficient reporter and this is a fine article. One point I want to make sure everyone understands is that this legislation provides no provision for bonding or a tax increase. It is anticipated that a private partner would bear the costs of the project and be allowed a period of time to recognize a return on their investment.

The state would not raise the gasoline tax - or any other tax. All costs would be paid by private partners who maintain the roadways under the direction of the state. Of course the state would retain ownership of the right-of-way and the land on which the road is built and preserve an option for buy-out of the facility.

I would welcome any thoughtful feedback.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Smoke Free in 2006

By Michael Waddoups
Utah State Senator, District 6

Utah was the first state in the nation to go "smoke free" when its indoor clean air act took effect in 1995. We prohibit smoking in restaurants, stores, bowling alleys and businesses, but exempt private clubs, taverns, guest rooms at hotels and motels as well as fraternal and religious organizations.

Since 1995, nine states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) have enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke free laws. The 2006 legislative session in Colorado will introduce a comprehensive smoke free bipartisan bill. Arizona and Ohio both have ballot initiatives - to be voted on in November of 2006.
In the 2005 legislative session I sponsored a bill that would have removed the exemption of the 1995 Clean Air Act for private clubs, taverns, fraternal clubs and country clubs. The bill passed in the Senate but was thwarted in the House, even though we felt we were very close to the 38 votes necessary to pass it.

In the 2006 Utah legislative session I will again introduce a bill (SB19) to protect workers and patrons right to breathe clean air.

Secondhand smoke isn’t just annoying. It can kill you. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, lead, and arsenic. It’s been proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and serious respiratory illnesses. Thousands of Americans die each year from second-hand smoke.

Don’t smoke? You still pay. Each household in Utah pays $505 per year to meet the state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures.

Supporters of this bill include club owners, employees of bars and taverns, The American Heart Association, The American Lung Association, Smoke Free Utah, and, most importantly, thousands of Utah citizens.

This policy will pay big dividends in saved lives, better use of tax dollars, and a healthier state. I sincerely hope my colleagues in the house and senate will support this legislation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bill Text: Curriculum and policy on theories relating to the origins of life

By Chris Buttars
Senator, District 10

What I have wanted to do all along is stop opinionated teachers from teaching human evolution as fact. Scientists disagree on the origins of humankind. Young students should have a fighting chance to appreciate the difference between theory and law.

For those who are interested, here is the complete text of my bill:
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah. . .

53A-13-101.7. Curriculum and policy on theories relating to the origins of life.

(1) In order to encourage students to critically analyze theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race, consider opposing viewpoints, and form their own opinions, the Legislature desires to avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory, or that the state endorses one theory over another.

(2) The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements, consistent with Subsection (1), relating to instruction of students on theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race.

(3) The curriculum requirements described in Subsection (2) shall require that instruction to students on any theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race, shall stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct.

(4) The State Board of Education shall:

(a) make rules, pursuant to Title 63, Chapter 46a, Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act, to fulfill the requirements of this section; and

(b) ensure that all policies and positions of the State Board of Education relating to theories regarding the origins of life or the origins or present state of the human race:

(i) do not endorse a particular theory; and

(ii) stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Christmas Story

Today's Utah Policy Daily features a Christmas Story worth repeating:
The 28-Cent Christmas Tree

(This is a true story written by my father, the late LaVarr B. Webb. It has been a family favorite that helps us appreciate the bounteous blessings we enjoy today in contrast to times past.)

It was a cold day. A gray day, gray with the threat of snow, and gray with the threat of tears. There were children, three of them, ages one, twelve, and fourteen. There were two children missing on that cold, gray day. They had died one Easter season some four years before. Scarlet Fever had wracked their bodies and blotched their skin.

But now the memory of that sad season was replaced by what could be a happier one. It was Christmas Eve 1935. A Depression year in Salt Lake City. A father without a job, trying to get on WPA (Works Progress Administration). I don’t know where he was that night, just that he wasn’t home, but I remember a mother trying to create Christmas joy with nothing to work with.

I was fourteen. My sister was twelve. I don’t remember that we were concerned about Christmas presents, at least I wasn’t. My sister probably wanted a doll. She always wanted a doll, a baby doll, a doll like my baby sister had been, with fat, pink cheeks, and chubby hands and arms.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas of 1935 other than I wanted a Christmas tree. I told my mother, “Christmas will not be Christmas if we don’t have a Christmas tree.”

My sister and I begged for a tree. My mother shook her head sadly. “We have no money to buy a Christmas tree.”

My sister and I would not be deterred. We took colored paper from catalogs, cut it into strips, curled the strips into circles, and using flour and water paste, pasted one link into another until we had long lengths of highly colored paper chains.

We looked for tin foil from discarded chewing gum wrappers and cigarette packs. Some of the foil we cut into thin strips for icicles. Our neighbor had an English Walnut tree. We took halves of walnut shells, wrapped them with foil, and had beautiful ornaments that would rival anything found in a store.

We popped pop corn and made chains. We found discarded cranberries and made cranberry chains, but we had no Christmas tree for our lovely ornaments. Finally, as day was fading, and the dark was creeping across the valley, I asked my mother, “See how much money you have. Maybe someone will sell me a tree.”

She went to her purse, and handed me 28 cents. She was crying when she said, “That is all I have.”

I jumped on my bike, and rode up to 21st South Street where all the Christmas tree lots were located. I went from lot to lot, but no one would sell me a tree for 28 cents.

About nine o’clock, up on 21st South and State Street, I found a man turning off his lights and shutting down for the day, shutting down for the season. I asked him, “Do you have a tree you will sell for 28 cents?”

His exact words were, “What the heck! I can’t sell anymore anyway. Take your pick.”

I found one just a little taller than I was, gave him my 28 cents, put the tree across my handle bars, and headed home. As I peddled out of the lot, I heard him shout, “Merry Christmas,” and it was.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Billion Dollar Budget

The Senate Majority met for almost three hours yesterday to discuss pending budget decisions. Read Glen Warchol’s story to get a feel for where we are, at this point. We will continue the discussion on January 10. You can also read the DesNews story here.

Chris Buttars’ Bill

Following the caucus meeting yesterday, Senate Leadership held a quick Q & A with some of the more intrepid reporters assigned to cover us. Of course Senator Buttars’ "Intelligent Design" bill came up.

Lisa Riley Roche quoted us accurately (and this is probably about all that would be appropriate to say until senators can review the actual bill):
Senate Republicans heard a pitch Tuesday from Buttars about both of his proposed bills but took no position, according to Senate leaders. The discussion took up only a few minutes of the nearly three-hour caucus meeting, held behind closed doors.

"We have not shut the door on these issues," Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said. "Sen. Buttars is a well-respected member of our caucus" who is entitled to express his opinion.
But Buttars didn't ask caucus members to vote on whether they supported his proposals.

"That wasn't Sen. Buttars' desire today. He wanted to clear the air in terms of what he was working on and did not ask us to take any kind of position," said Senate Majority Leader Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City. "He feels there has been some misunderstanding" about his intentions — especially as they have been reported.

..."There may be some other alternatives that Sen. Buttars has pursued," [Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo] said, that are "not inconsistent with court cases or established law."

Good News

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on Intelligent Design

Steve Urquhart just posted a worthwhile perspective on Intelligent Design.

We'd appreciate our readers' comments on this issue (either here or on Steve's site).

Friday, December 16, 2005

Western States Presidential Primary

The New West Network and Headwaters News’ Western Perspective offer good progress reports on the emergence of a Western States Primary (one of our favorite subjects).

Daniel Kemmis writes,
A very early caucus in one Western state might indeed help to focus national attention on Western issues. But in those terms, the greater promise lies in the ongoing effort to coordinate several Rocky Mountain primaries or caucuses on or near the same day.
... even though most of the action is currently on the Democratic side, this is not fundamentally a partisan matter, and there will be plenty of Republican action in due time.
Senators Pete Knudson and Mike Dmitrich (Senate Majority and Minority Leaders) will introduce the Western States Presidential Primary authorization bill to the Utah Legislature next month. Majority Leader Jeff Alexander and Minority Leader Ralph Becker will sponsor it in the House.

More information on the issue here, here, here and here.

“Look for Plenty . . .”

Lisa Riley Roche, of the Deseret Morning News, discusses state budget issues on this week’s Inside Utah. Get the MP3 here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Courage and Foresight

By Greg Bell
State Senator, District 22

As we begin work with the state budget surplus, first a word of gratitude that our citizens are employed, creating businesses and jobs and profits. We realize that tax revenues don’t just appear; they’re paid by hard-working people. We feel it a great trust, a fiduciary duty, to handle these monies wisely.

What principles should guide us as we deal with them?

I’m glad past legislatures have largely adhered to a pay-as-you-go philosophy. Our AAA credit rating is evidence of historically good management. The economy and tax revenues seem to swing so quickly and dramatically nowadays that excess debt can be a huge problem. Still, when one sees the incredible increases (30% and higher) in the stuff used to build roads and buildings (asphalt, cement, steel) one wonders whether some bonding wouldn’t be intelligent. Legacy Highway’s cost increased almost $250 million (more than 50%) in four years–at a time when we could have bonded at about 2% per annum. UVSC’s library has increased in cost from $36M to $47M in one year. Interest at 3% interest over 7 years (with no principal amortization) would only be $7.5M.

A college president recently told me that it used to take 2-3 years to get a needed building through the Regents, Building Board and Legislature. It now takes about five years, and is moving toward ten years. That’s too long to delay critical educational infrastructure needs.

The traffic jam for higher ed funding is nothing compared to transportation needs. Almost every section of the State is begging for more and better roads. I-15 in north Utah County, I-15 in north Weber County, Legacy North, and Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Helper are just a few of the burning priorities, not to speak of sorely needed corridor preservation. We need to invest billions of dollars to keep our economy from stagnating.

Conservative legislators justly fear that we will “grow government”. When governments are funded too much they grow unnecessarily and tend to pursue inessential things. Fraud, waste and abuse rear their ugly heads. New and expanded programs create constituent groups of employees and recipients, which become self-perpetuating lobbies for the eternal life of the programs and ever more expenditures.

Here are some touchstones for what I think are legitimate considerations for applying surpluses.

1. We have to remember that a tax cut is ongoing. If you cut a tax rate in good times from 7% to 6% and the revenue from 6% will sustain legitimate government operations, well, you’ve accomplished your mission. However, in a contracting economy that 6% rate may only yield 3/4ths of the revenue it did in better times. In the next recession, without the tax cut the State would have had the extra revenue from 7% to work with. But in tough times you just don’t restore the tax rate to prior levels. Tax revenues can’t be adjusted as needed like a stove temperature. When you lower a rate it tends to stay there. No one wants to see these huge surpluses going forward, but we also need to avoid adopting tax rates which won’t sustain us through the hard times which will surely come.

2. There has to be a time of catching up from the effects of the economic storm earlier in this decade. Yes, we have surpluses, but
• Utah is still 51st in K-12 education funding.

• Teachers start at $12.50/hr.

• Child welfare workers make $25,000/yr. to begin.

• Attorneys in the AG’s office start at 40% of what SL firms pay.

• Highway Patrol troopers make 75-80% of their peers in cities and counties.

• 27,000 income-eligible children are barred by funding limits from obtaining
health insurance coverage under CHIPS or Medicaid.

• Notwithstanding significant improvements, at least 12 people have been killed on Highway 6 this year.

• Most dentists refuse Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates.

• Only 50% of those in need of mental health services can be handled by SL
County’s mental health contractor, with similar numbers in almost every county in the State.

• Tuition at our colleges and universities is becoming unaffordable to many of our citizens, especially those of low and moderate income who need a college education to break the cycle of their poverty.

• 50% of Utah’s Hispanic students drop out of high school.

• Utah has fallen from 12th to 34th in the nation in the number of citizens ages 24-34 with a 4-year college degree.
3. We should shore up our rainy day funds, build one-time projects such as roads and critical state buildings, fund the USTAR technology initiative: These don’t appreciably grow government.

4. Our citizens understand or should be educated about the HUGE needs for roads, schools, water development, and restoration of aging dams and bridges. The people I talk to don’t want a tax reduction that amounts to a token to them at the cost of improving our schools and roads. Every poll I have seen about tax refunds versus education funding goes in favor of the latter.

5. Increased State spending doesn’t automatically equate to “growing government.”
• Simple inflation and rapid population growth account for much of the needed revenue demand.

• Adding 15,000 new pupils a year to our K-12 system will cost $32M in additional WPU’s alone.

• Increases in natural gas alone will cost the State and its schools, colleges and universities tens of millions of dollars.
6. Notwithstanding all of the above, the populace at large sees the headlines that the State is awash in surplus revenue, and they rightfully expect that we will reduce the tax rates which produce outsized surpluses.

As in all things, our budget deliberations must be guided by wisdom, courage and foresight.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

New Chief Clerk: Sandy Tenney

In today's Salt Lake Tribune:
VETERAN SENATE AID NAMED CHIEF CLERK OF THE HOUSE

A longtime Utah Senate clerk has been named chief clerk of the Utah House.

House Speaker Greg Curtis appointed Sandy Tenney, House services manager, to replace outgoing clerk Carole Peterson, who retired last month. Tenney is a 20-year veteran of state government. She started her career in the Legislative Printing Office before transferring to the Senate, where she worked as the Senate services manager, reading and amending clerk.

Tenney, a member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks & Secretaries, will advise Curtis on parliamentary procedure, prepare the House Journal and supervise legislative staff.
They didn't mention her genteel nature, efficient work, and conscientious stewardship of taxpayer resources. You can read more about it here.

Congratulations Sandy, and best of luck.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Big Budget Numbers

Governor Huntsman unleashed new budget numbers today.

The upshot is that Utah's economy is on fire and we will probably have several hundred million more dollars in the bank than than anyone anticipated.

You can read the governor's budget recommendation here.

Before the Oklahoma Land Rush begins we should probably insert a few words of observation and caution.

Lyle Hillyard, Senate Chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement:
We are impressed and grateful for the current success of Utah’s economy. A number of factors, including prudent state fiscal policies have resulted in a budget surplus - for which we are very thankful. It appears we will have more funds this year than anyone anticipated.

We look forward to the implementation of tax reform, including significant tax cuts, without harming infrastructure, schools, or other state priorities.

We also anticipate being able to spend more on the WPU and public education salaries.

At the same time, we recommend a cautious, deliberative approach. We understand the dynamics of boom and bust cycles. We’ve been through this before. We are acutely aware that much of the state’s new money has come from fairly volatile sources, such as severance tax, corporate finance tax, and capital gains tax.

We applaud the hard work of Governor Huntsman and his staff, particularly their emphasis on education, transportation and economic development. We appreciate his effort to take care of state employees while holding down the state FTE count.

William Sloan Coffin said, ‘It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters, and quite another to work out the irrigation system.'

Starting next Wednesday, the Utah Legislature will be working out the irrigation system. We’ll take a hard look at the numbers and craft a tax cut and budget plan that will serve the state well.

We encourage citizens to be fully informed, and actively engaged in the policy-making process.
The Utah Legislature's independent analysis of the economy and budget forecast will be adopted at next Wednesday’s Executive Appropriations Meeting. Our numbers will be similar to the Governor’s. The numbers will be updated again in mid-February.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Decision on HB 213

By John L. Valentine
President of the Utah State Senate
Senate District 14

Passing HB 213 was one of those sobering instances where the responsible decision was not the most popular.

In 1984, the value of one day's sick leave was roughly equivalent to the cost of one month's insurance premium, so we created a policy allowing for an exchange at retirement. Today the value is far far less, and the gap seems to be widening exponentially. Given the spiraling cost of health care, we had to adjust that expenditure to ensure the solvency of state budget into the foreseeable future.

The Utah Public Employees Association sued the state.

This morning the Courts ruled against them.

The judge said the plaintiffs had no vested right or legal claim, and that they failed to establish that the individual harm to them was greater than harm done to the public by keeping this policy. They reiterated that the Legislature must have the flexibility required to deal with future debt, and there is no way to determine what health care costs may be 10 years from now.

The plaintiffs indicated they intend to file an appeal. At the hearing this morning they asked for an injunction pending an appeal, which was also denied.

So, the request for a preliminary injunction was denied and the overall case was dismissed.

I feel the Court's ruling was appropriate but it does nothing to dispel the somber feeling of being forced to a disappointing conclusion. Sometimes being a legislator is rewarding. Passing HB 213 was not one of those times.

We anticipate good budget news tomorrow. It would be very fitting for us to examine what more we can do for our hardworking state employees.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Projecting Revenue

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee

One of the most difficult and important jobs of the legislature is predicting future revenue amounts so we can craft a balanced state budget.

There is usually some discrepancy between what we expect and what we actually collect. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005 (FY05), we had a surplus. After the automatic statutory withdrawals (including deposits to the industrial assistance fund, economic development fund, debt service and rainy day funds), it looks like we have $24.7 million of General Fund money and $80.1 million of Uniform School Fund money which, of course, is very good news. It’s a known quantity and that money is in the bank. This surplus is considered one-time money for future needs.

The primary source for the Uniform School Fund is income taxes. I am particularly gratified when that amount increases because it means more people are employed and being paid more for the work they do.

The current balance in our Rainy Day Funds is about $146 Million - 106 million in the general rainy day fund and $40 million in the Education Budget Reserve Account.

We are now in the middle of Fiscal Year ’06. Our Fiscal Analyst Office works diligently to form an accurate independent revenue projection. Then we meet with the Governor’s Office to come to a consensus on a final figure. This process requires careful examination of the economic factors impacting our state economy over the next six months. Once we know what our actual income for the year will be, we can determine if we need to make any immediate adjustments to the budget we set last year – or whether there might be a surplus.

The FY 05 surplus + the anticipated FY 06 surplus will be used as our projected one-time money in the upcoming session.

Then comes the really tough challenge: predicting what the economy will do between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007 (FY 07). That projection will become the principal figure used to build the budgets and discuss tax cuts during the upcoming session.

As I was driving home from Provo last Friday, I listened to the radio reports on the incoming winter storms and was glad to hear some of the ski resorts may finally be able to open. I have seen an early opening of the ski resorts result in over $50 million in increased tax revenue for the state.

People can become very excited about the initial revenue estimates with which we begin the session. Then, around mid-February when the post-Christmas tax collection reports arrive, people are disappointed if estimates are adjusted downward, even slightly. I hope we can avoid that this year – first, because the disappointment can impact confidence in the local economy, and second because of how it alters the legislative discussion.

Let’s say, for example, we projected having around $200 million in new revenue. Then, in mid-February, that projection drops to $150 million. I will suddenly start to hear a great cry that we have to cut budgets or we need to raise taxes to save all the endangered programs. It has always escaped me how spending an additional $150 million is a budget cut. I would advise a more restrained, patient approach.

One day in the grocery store a lady came up to me and voiced her concern about the need for more funding for public education. My question to her was, “Where are we going to get that money?”

She said, “Well, that’s your problem, just get us more money.”

Later the same day, a man talked to me about his business, family and work situation. He told me we have to cut taxes. I asked him what we should quit funding. His answer was the same: That is your problem, not mine.

Our challenge is to address both priorities at the same time.

Government doesn’t generate money. Government can only spend money it takes away from someone, either by taxation or reallocation of expenditures in state programs.

So, if you are advocating for a tax cut or increased funding for a particular program – remember all of these competing priorities must be carefully weighed against each other with the big picture in mind.

New budget numbers will be out this week. Governor Huntsman will announce his on Friday. Our Executive Appropriations Committee will take action next Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Unlikely Haven"

Incisive perspective on the beehive state from Utah's newest citizens – published in Monday's Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

"I'm in the West," she said. "They don't even know what crawfish is. It makes me realize more and more: 'You're not in New Orleans anymore."

Thanks to today’s edition of Utah Policy Daily for bringing the article to our attention.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ambassador from Mexico

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Speaker Curtis and I were honored to spend a very interesting hour discussing immigration issues with Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza and Mexican Consul Salvador Jiminez.

We found the Ambassador to be warm and engaging. He was friendly but he was also very candid, with a firm grasp of issues vital to the nation he represents. Consul Salvador Jimenez has always been equally helpful and competent. It is very easy, pleasant, and productive to engage in serious dialoge with individuals of that caliber.

The Ambassador shared some interesting facts with us and I don’t think he would mind my passing them along.

He said Mexico also has a porous border. Last year Mexico sent 205,000 people back to Central America. Pertaining to immigration he said Mexico is “a country of origin, transport, and destination.” Interestingly, he mentioned 1/3 of all Americans in Mexico are undocumented.

It will not always be this way, but the United States' economy is currently 15 times stronger than Mexico; our country is a magnet for those seeking greater opportunity. However, the U.S. only grants low-skilled workers 5,000 permanent visas per year (we give 68,000 for temporary agricultural employment). The demand for workers, however, is much, much higher. Frank Sherry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum the United States requires 500,000 such workers.

The Ambassador recounted an experience in the Sonoran Desert of northern Mexico, where he met several people trying to cross the border in desperate need of water. One said he had a job waiting for him in New York City. The ambassador told him this is a long way from New York; surely there must be a better way. The man spoke of his family’s financial needs and said, "There is no other way for people like me."

Many aspects of border security are working very well. Many are not, and our border is not yet under control. One impediment to finding a solution to border problems is that all parties are not fully engaged with each other in finding a solution.

NCSL’s Regional Conference on Immigration and the States will be held on December 12th at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. I will be joining colleagues from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico to discuss these issues.

As always, I would love to have the benefit of our readers’ perspectives on these interesting, very difficult problems.

Tax Reform Stories

For those following the epic journey of Tax Reform in Utah . . .

Glen Warchol fleshes out the latest proposal with opinions from State Tax Commissioner Bruce Johnson and Senate President John Valentine.

Bob Bernick also has two stories worth reading, here and here.

This week's podcast from Jennifer Napier-Pierce includes interviews with the Governor’s Chief of Staff Neil Ashdown, and Representative Roz McGee.

You should also read Urquhart's blog, and SLC Spin's terse but - perhaps unintentionally - profound notes on the internet and the true identity of Santa Claus.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Santa?

Some kids prefer their presents tied into packages, neatly set under the tree weeks before Christmas. Others don’t care how they are wrapped as long as the goods are delivered by Christmas morning. (Others - the best of us - just appreciate their fellow man and the spirit of the season.)

A Salt Lake Tribune editorial compared the Tax Reform Task Force to Bad Santas, and accused the group of punting reform without completing its work.

Let’s insert some friendly adult supervision into that discussion.

The Tax Reform Task Force and Interim Revenue & Taxation Committee have produced over 30 pieces of legislation centered on tax reform. These include a complete restructuring of RDA, a task that has eluded legislators since the mid 1980s. They have also proposed revisions in sales tax, insurance premium taxes, property taxes, income taxes, and myriad other tax-related issues.

The Brain Trust of Governors Walker and Huntsman (Gary Cornia, Ray Nelson, and Keith Prescott), legislators on each side of the isle from both chambers, and representatives from the governors office have spent literally thousands of hours analyzing, debating, and searching for the best possible tax system for Utah.

Every single person involved would like to have had an agreement by this time. As is often the case with passionate, intelligent, strong-willed individuals - they disagreed.

That’s appropriate.

That’s democracy.

One of the more difficult issues has been how to remove the sales tax on food.
It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like mighty waters,” and quite another to work out the irrigation system. Clearly there is more certainty in the recognition of wrongs than there is in the prescription for their cure.

- William Sloane Coffin
The evening previous to the “Bad Santa" editorial saw a winter storm of phone calls between members of the House and Senate, the Tax Commission, the League of Cities and towns, the Utah Taxpayers Association and others. They worked from 3:00 p.m. until after midnight developing what might be a breakthrough in finding a way to remove the sales tax from food.

This proposal removes the food tax without increasing sales, property, or income taxes. It is not a tax shift. It will not disrupt the revenue streams of our cities and towns, and will not cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts.

Bad Santas? Not doing their work? Give us a break.

The Trib’s editorial board should know enough about life to understand many gifts are not tied into neat little packages - especially policy equations that are as sweeping as they are complicated. On tax reform, however, Utah is miles and miles ahead of where we were a few months ago.
And miles to go before we sleep,
And miles to go before we sleep.

- Robert Frost (more or less)

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