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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Credit Freeze passes in the House

Senator Walker's Credit Freeze Bill passed the House unanimously. Nice job, House. And good work, Carlene.

From today's Tribune:
The House unanimously approved a bill on Monday that would give people more control over their credit reports. SB71, sponsored by Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, would allow consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports by sending a letter through registered mail to the three credit bureaus.

The bureaus would then issue a personal identification number. The credit bureaus would have to lift the freeze within 5 minutes if consumers wanted to use the PIN to allow a potential creditor to access their credit report. The bureaus could charge consumers for the service. SB71 would take effect in September 2008. The bill now needs the signature of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to become law.

Resolve

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, strongly oppose the use of public lands owned by the BLM to facilitate the transfer and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor declare that the transport of spent nuclear fuel on public roads is wholly impractical, and that the transport and operation of the proposed intermodal transfer facility present an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of the citizens of Utah.
Senator Knudson introduced a resolution opposing the transportation and storage of spent nuclear fuel in Utah. Read the entire resolution. You can – and should - share your opinion as well.

Send your comments to the following address:
Bureau of Land Management
Attention: Pam Schuller
Salt Lake Field Office
2370 South 2300 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84119
UPDATE: You can also E-mail comments to pam_schueller@blm.gov

Intern Report (Audio)

What is life like as a Senate Intern? Laura the Intern captured the following responses:

Laura Barlow

Amanda Chamberlain

Daniel Francom

Taylor Howe

Rachel MacFarlane

Josh Hurst

Courtney Nay

Jeff Barth

Sam Ricks

Wendy Peck

Dan Brinton

4 . 9 7 5 % (PowerPoint)

Five slides of insight on a Flat Tax (requires PowerPoint).

Monday, February 27, 2006

4 . 9 7 5 % (Audio)

Laura the Intern captured Senator Bramble's thoughts, shortly after the Flat Tax bill passed the Senate.
Today's Flat Tax Blog (Text)

Previous Flat Tax Audio (MP3)

Voice of the People

In caucus today, the Senate Majority proposed the following:

We will go forward with plans to amend HB 109 to reduce the sales tax on food by 2 percent, as per last week's agreement.

We would also like to let the citizens of Utah weigh in on the issue, through an advisory vote in November, and will prepare an amendment to that effect.

The decision to keep the sales tax on food – or jettison it in favor of increased property tax and/or increased service taxes – will fundamentally impact Utah’s revenue system for generations to come.

Why not let voters grapple with the same issues legislators have confronted - and register their opinion?

GRAMA Bill Vote: 14 - 14

TIME FOR A FLAT TAX

By Curt Bramble
Senator, District 16: Provo

Over the next 10 to 20 years, Utah's income tax base will continue to shrink, severely under-funding education.

SB 242 passed the Senate Friday afternoon on a 21-4 vote. This proposal drops the income tax rate from 7 percent to under 5 percent and will ensure the economic stability of education and of the state.

There may be a few cases where taxpayers who receive an extraordinarily disproportionate benefit from deductions will pay more under tax reform. One example I recently ran across is a married couple making over $60K, with a series of deductions that allows them to pay no state taxes under the current system.

This reform bill is good tax policy. It will build the tax base and lower the rate while bringing equity back into our tax system. It provides credits for charitable contributions, homeowners, and mortgage interest. Plus it allows for a $100 per person credit to offset any tax you happen to find immoral. :-)

If this bill passes the House, Utah will move from having the 14th highest tax rate to the 14th lowest in the nation, making our state much more competitive.

It is important to recognize that this is true tax reform- not just a tax cut.

This tax reform proposal delivers sound tax policy and economic development.

It is flatter, simpler, and more fair.

Insight

Steve Urquhart shares his perspective on the negotiation that broke the budget impasse last Thursday.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Progress

Here is the compromise solution that broke the budget impasse:

The Legislature will cut taxes in Utah by $160 million dollars this year. We'll cut $70 million from income taxes, cut another $70 million through a significant reduction in the sales tax on unprepared food, and cut $20 million from business taxes as a series of economic development incentives.

We will also allocate an additional $20 million to education funding, $8 million for water development, $90 million for transportation needs, and an additional $22 million for our committee priorities (bringing the total money for committee priorities to $78 million).

Read the press release.

All the above deals with ONGOING MONEY. A substantial amount of one-time money remains to be allocated.

Have a great weekend.

Blocks on the Table

The Magnificent Senate Interns created this video production on the difficulties of hammering out a balanced state budget.

They illustrate just how difficult it can be to make all the pieces fit – and how people with competing priorities must work together to come to an agreement.

Enjoy!
Low Bandwidth Video

Medium Bandwidth Video


High Bandwidth Video

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hope . . . and good tax policy

John Valentine
President of the Senate

It appears we may have an acceptable framework for agreement on the budget, tax reform and tax cuts this year.

The Governor, Speaker and I hope to outline the details at a press conference on Friday.


UPDATE: The press conference will be held at 2:00 p.m. today in the Capitol Plaza.

Surplus 101

By Senator David L. Thomas
District 18

Senator Greg Bell
District 22

Senator Michael Waddoups
District 6

Senator Tom Hatch
District 28

What to do with the record surplus is the ongoing question on Utah's Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, rhetoric rather than facts seems to rule the day.

So let's talk facts.

While everyone talks about a $1 Billion surplus, there is really about $641 million in ongoing funds B $264.5 million from the General Fund and another $376.3 million from the restricted Uniform School Fund (another $570 million is in one-time monies which cannot be used to fund ongoing programs or tax cuts).

Out of that surplus, we have to fund the following areas:
* Non-discretionary funding increases such as K-12 student growth: $ 61,088,000

* Increased health insurance premiums for state employees: 15,800,000

* Retirement funding for state employees & public education: 18,300,000

* Other actuarially required payments: 32,700,000
We also need to consider the further needs of the State:
* Medicaid growth, not to increase benefits, but to just keep up with the increased population (we are the 5th fastest growing State in the nation): $54,800,000

* Correctional and Public Safety facilities costs. Without these there will potentially be an early release of felons into our communities: $12,100,000

* USTAR, the Governor's flagship for economic development: $15,000,000

* Increase in per pupil spending for public education and a cost of living / benefits increase for State workers: $167,800,000
TOTAL: $377,588,000

In addition, there is another $185 million in other legitimate needs, prioritized by the Legislature and requested by the Governor, ranging from sorely needed improvements in public education to paying the gas bill at colleges and universities to a sex offender registry and prosecution costs of child pornography.

So the question for those who favor taking the sales tax off of food - which would cost $168 million from the General Fund surplus – is this: which one of these many needs do you want to cut? Should we not take care of our poor and elderly? Should we allow an early release of criminals into our communities? Who will tell our teachers that they do not deserve a Cost-of-Living adjustment? Should we increase tuition at our colleges and universities to pay for increased fuel costs?

By the way, we have yet to even address the $16.5 billion price tag on fixing our highways. Should we do nothing and increase waiting time on I-15 in Utah, Weber, Davis, and Washington counties?

If we fund these needs, the sales tax on food will remain. Is that a bad idea? The fact is that sales tax is the fairest tax we have - everyone participates and contributes to paying the costs of government services. It is also essential to a stable tax base, as any CPA will tell you. Those states who took the sales tax off of food generally have lower bond ratings than those who didn't. What does that mean? It means that those states without sales tax on food generally pay higher interest rates - in sum, they pay more money for interest costs at the expense of other needs like education and transportation. According to the latest polling data, most Utah citizens (58%) want these needs funded more than they want to take off the sales tax on food.

A comment on the Governor’s original flat tax reform proposal is also in order. Under that proposal, the cost was approximately $30 million. It was not, however, as has been reported, a tax cut proposal. It was a tax shifting measure. Unfortunately, that proposal would have shifted more taxes onto the middle class. For example, a married family of four that made 55K with an average mortgage and itemized deductions for charitable giving would have incurred a tax increase of $109 per year. A married family of four making 75K per year with the same deductions would have seen a $534 per year tax increase. Hardly the $10 to $15 shift that has been asserted. It is with this background that the Senate has asserted that there should not be winners and losers in tax reform, especially when we have a surplus.

Senator Bramble unveiled a modified version of the Governor’s flat tax proposal on Wednesday of this week that seems to make sense. The numbers balance almost every Utah citizen will have a tax cut. The caucus approved the plan and it will probably be considered in Senate Chambers on Thursday.

The Utah Senate has taken a reasoned position to cut the individual income tax by $100 million, the largest tax cut in Utah history, which can come out of both the General and Uniform School Funds. We can return part of the surplus to all the citizens, while maintaining sufficient funds to address the needs of the State - the poor, education, and transportation needs - without growing government.

That is responsible government.

Feel good proposals are great rhetoric, but they don't pay the bills.

More on USTAR

Great collection of facts on USTAR here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Snapshot: February 22, 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Priorities

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations

In action this morning, the House and Senate set aside $300.0 M of ongoing moneys for tax cuts, transportation, and water development, leaving $56.0 M of ongoing revenue for further allocation.

We are working to allocate the remaining $56.0 M of ongoing funds for committee priorities. With that amount, we can probably fund the following (although the House and Senate still need to come to agreement on the exact items):

Executive Offices and Criminal Justice
*$4.1 M for 288 beds added to the Central Utah/Gunnison Prison.

*$800,000 overtime pay (about 70 percent of their request) for Highway Patrolman who work long hours on days with bad weather and poor driving conditions (remember last week’s snow storm?).
Commerce and Revenue
*$3.8 M for Health Insurance for Utahans who cannot obtain private insurance because of an uninsurable health condition.
Health and Human Services
*$9.8 million for 192 case managers who provide medical access for abused children and $4.7 million for 91 foster care workers. (Thiswill replace federal Medicaid funding that was cut as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005).

*$1.6 million for 285 disabled Utahans who need services at home who would otherwise require full-time institutional care. These people are on the “waiting list.”
Natural Resources
*$2.5 M for Wildlife Resources Employee Compensation. Lack of funding for this would result in a fee increase for hunters and fisherman.
Public Education
*$2.0 M for anticipated student growth in Applied Technology Programs.

*$2.3 million for Concurrent Enrollment growth.
Higher Education
*50 percent of the Operating and Maintenance costs and Utility Increases.

At $56 million that is about the extent of what we can fund. If more money were allocated to the committees, we would like to help fund the following priorities that ranked high with committees:

Criminal Justice
*$1.3 M for Guardian ad Litem improvements.
Capital Facilities and Administrative
*LeRay McAllister Critical Lands Fund.
Commerce and Revenue
*General Assistance to the Department of Workforce Services provides funds for the homeless, and physically and mentally handicapped.
Economic Development
*Centers for Excellence Funding will enhance Utah’s economy by improving Utah’s research industry at the University level. These programs lead to private commercial development across the state.

*Business Resource Centers provide “one-stop shops” for small businesses across the state for business consulting and management.

*Film Incentive Funding gives rebates for out of state filmmakers who film in Utah.

*Restore funding to Utah’s zoo’s which lost funding in recent years due to the down-turned economy.
Health and Human Services
*Drug Court growth which provides an alternative to incarceration.

*An additional $1,400,000 for disabled Utahans in addition to the amount proposed for the waiting list, above.
Higher Education
*Salary Retention for Higher Education

*The entire costs for Utility Rate Increases and Operation and Maintenance.

*Operation and Maintenance for New Buildings
Public Education
*Math, Reading & Utah Basic Skills Competency Test to help students seek remediation to help pass Utah Basic Skills test. This provides professional development for math teachers.

*Full Day Kindergarten for at risk students.

Stay tuned. We still have a long week left in this legislative session.

Perspective

In case you missed it, here is some extra perspective from two Capitol Hill veterans:

As session winds down . . . , by Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cautious Optimism

By Peter Knudson
Senate Majority Leader

The Senate, House, and Governor’s Office have found some agreement but have not yet come to a consensus on a tax cut / tax reform package. That’s no surprise, given the complicated nature of the issues and the magnitude of this year’s budget.

We’re still talking and working on solutions, however, and I hope we can find them before too long.

Keep the faith. And stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Common Sense

By Tom Hatch
Utah State Senator, District 28 (the most beautiful Senate District on earth)

Legislators are going to make some tough decisions in the next few days.

Every one of us wants to cut taxes, and we will cut them. But to cut as deeply as some of the proposals we've seen doesn't make a lot of sense.

The Senate voted to cut taxes by $100 million - the largest tax cut in state history. I'm concerned that if you go much north of that amount we may not meet the real needs of the state.

Both the House and Senate have agreed to fund the growth in public education as well as increased Medicaid costs in addition to some other minor adjustments. That bill has passed through the House and Senate and has been signed by Governor Huntsman. The House and Senate have also agreed, in concept at least, to fund transportation and water projects (mainly transportation) with an additional $200 million of ongoing monies. Combine this with increased insurance costs, retirement benefits and a modest salary increase for state employees and there is nothing left for consideration to meet the other needs of the state.

It does not make sense to force the Division of Wildlife Resources or our State Parks to pass on increased costs by raising fees to the sportsman and others while at the same time giving a huge tax cut. This is just one example from a committee with which I am deeply involved. Every other appropriations co-chair can give examples just as compelling for their committees.

No one is talking about reckless government growth. I don't like growing government at all, but when you have a job to do, and the means to get the job done right, it doesn't make much sense to abdicate our responsibility to the citizens of one of the fastest growing states in the country.

I too have had numerous contacts from constituents wanting everything from a half billion in tax relief to "spend it all and tax me more". In every case without exception those who contacted me did not have much information regarding the budget or the budget process nor were they looking at the big picture of balancing tax policy with the true needs (not wants) of our state.

We need to take a hard look at the numbers, and cowboy up to our job as decision makers and statesmen.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Utah Senate Approves $100 Million Tax Cut

Utah Senate Approves $100 Million Tax Cut

The Trib: "Senate leaders said they will not consider completely eliminating the tax on food, because the $166 million loss in revenue would make it impossible to meet other critical state needs."

Yesterday's Trib: . . . Senate Republicans balk at complete removal of the grocery tax. "We would rather look in other areas," said Senate Majority Leader Pete Knudson. "The Senate is solidly where we have been for a long time," Knudson said, adding the food tax removal "creates more problems than it solves." Hillyard said a food tax removal or a tax cut over $100 million would severely limit money available for other needs.

Unvarnished

Senator Howard Stephenson expressed his strong opinion on media ethics in a committee discussing lobbyist disclosure requirements.

Some loved his comments. Some hated them.

Thanks to millenial technology you can listen in and decide for yourself.

Senator Stephenson's comments start 7 minutes 30 seconds into the meeting. Senator Bell's comments follow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Proposal

By Curt Bramble
Senate Vice Chair of Executive Appropriations

At this point, it is apparent that we need a fresh plan to address the state’s top priorities:

* Transportation
* Education
* Economic Development
* Tax Reform

We need the plan to provide for a functional, albeit carefully limited, government organization. We have all worked hard to pinpoint and prioritize serious needs in areas like teacher salaries, enrollment growth, public safety, USTAR, loss of federal funds, etc.

A sober budget proposal will address, not abandon, the State’s legitimate needs. The Senate will share a new plan with our colleagues in the House when we’re back together on Monday.

We think this will help us all move closer to agreement.

As always, we appreciate thoughtful public input.

Beehive State

By Howard Stephenson
Utah Senator, District 11

Yesterday I made some comments about the media behaving like a swarm of bees.

This morning a can of bug spray was delivered to my desk on the Senate floor. The note read:
Dear Sen. Stephenson,

Please accept this small gift for your protection the next time a swarm of reporters-which could include me-buzzes your way.

Just so you know, this gift cost less than $5, so I don’t believe I need to include it on any official disclosure form.

Best wishes,

Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune
Thanks, Matt. Next time, I’ll be ready!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

War Zone / Work Zone

Tomorrow’s papers may make it sound like a bar fight is on here at the Capitol.

There are certainly instances where dissimilar modes of research and operation have led to different opinions as to the best policy direction for the state.

If there is indelible anger, however, it is probably one-sided. The Senate Majority believes a $100 million tax cut is about right if we still want to fund other state needs. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We’re not likely to shift opinion based on anything less than good math and sound reasoning.

Some degree of tension is par for the course at the end of a legislative session.

The process is effective. Things tend to work out.

Here’s tonight’s AP story, via kutv.com.

Supreme Court Ruling on HB 213

The Utah Supreme Court issued a decision today in the case of UPEA v. State of Utah.
See Charley Foster's post on the ruling.

Read the decision.

Listen to the announcement in the Senate Chambers today (requires Real Player).
This was not an easy decision; we sincerely appreciate the Court handling this matter expeditiously.

Take it with a grain of salt . . .

This morning's paper carried a story with alleged details of a breaking compromise on a tax issue.

Don’t believe everything you read.

Of course all parties are working to find agreement – that is the nature of a legislative session – but someone's confidential source was ill-informed. The details of the current "compromise" proposal are inaccurate and, at this point, the parties are far from agreement. Today's story may have given readers a misleading impression.

That said, we're still confident in the legislative process and that reasonable minds are on track to form reasonable policy direction for the State of Utah.

Legacy - full speed ahead

Anyone have trouble driving north from Salt Lake City last night?

When major snowstorms hit in the winter of 2008 and 2009, we'll all have an additional route north. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dissolved the injunction on Legacy. (See our previous Legacy blogs.)

UDOT is now free to begin construction.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Budget Math

Laura the Intern caught Senator Lyle Hillyard with a new budget worksheet, and recorded this audio explanation.

This is essentially the same sheet you saw last Friday, with new revenue estimates and caucus decisions factored in.

We thought you might like to see where we are at this point in the process.

Tax Cuts and Tax Reform

Yesterday, the Senate Majority Caucus voted to reserve $300 million for a combination of tax cuts, transportation funding, and water development.

The final budget will include four major elements.
1. Tax cuts
2. Infrastructure funding
3. State employee compensation
4. Committee recommendations
Yesterday’s decision allows us to move forward with numbers 3 and 4, above, while we continue to work out the exact balance between tax cuts, road funding and water development.

We also spent some quality time discussing the “metrics and mathematics of income tax reform” with the Governor, Keith Prescott, and others from the Executive Branch. From today’s Trib:
Senators made it clear they want a larger tax cut to soften the impact of the Huntsman reform on many of their constituents. Without that, Valentine, said lawmakers might consider leaving the existing structure in place, but lowering the top rate to produce a tax break.

"We asked him to come back with $60 million and $100 million [tax cuts] to give us benchmarks," Valentine said.

Huntsman agreed to rework the plan, possibly lowering the rate to 4.75 percent, which would divert about $100 million in growth from schools and back to taxpayers, said his economic adviser Keith Prescott.
The Governor and his staff were well prepared and highly informative. The reformers' message: a flatter tax system 1) Gives Utah a long-term competitive edge, and 2) Averts a distant-but-pending train wreck in education funding.

We look forward to discussing the impact of several different tax cut/tax reform scenarios in caucus tomorrow.

The Senate at Work

Listen live or watch live streaming video (Requires RealPlayer.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

The New Numbers

Good news: Utah's economy is strong and revenues are increasing.

Our economists delivered final budget numbers to the Senate, the House and the Governor's Office this afternoon. Those of you following the math should add some numbers to our budget equation.

Ongoing revenue is up an additional $63.2 million. $34.5 million of that is slated for Education and $28.7 million will go into the General Fund for FY 2007. We can use this money for tax cuts, education, economic development, transportation, etc.

We will also have an additional $68.9 million in one-time money. $33.5 million for Education and $35.4 million for the General Fund.

Here are a couple PDF docs for the economists, insomniacs and historians among us:
The Numbers

Key Economic Factors Driving Tax Revenues
While this is a welcome indicator of a robust local economy, it isn’t enough extra income to warrant throwing away our calculators. Senator Hillyard’s numbers showed us we will need to make some very sober budget decisions in the next two weeks.

Keep paying attention.

Friday, February 10, 2006

$479 Million Dollars

Lyle Hillyard – Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations – reviewed some budget numbers in our caucus meetings yesterday.

We thought you, gentle reader, might want to review them as well.

Here are the ongoing revenue figures we discussed in caucus.

It might be helpful to hear Senator Hillyard's explanation as you go over the details:
Listen to the Budget Junkie Version (MP3)

Listen to the Short Attention Span Version (MP3)

At this point we anticipate bringing in a total of $577.6 million in ongoing revenue for the next fiscal year ($341.8 Million for education and $235.8 Million for everything else).

We've already committed $98.4 million to base budgets (SB1 and SB3). This leaves $479.2 million to cover all tax cuts, fiscal notes on various bills and every other desperate need appropriate for the state to fund.

$479.2 million should be more than enough, right?

Dust off your calculator.

Subtract $87.3 million - the amount the state will need to set aside for health insurance and retirement costs.

The Utah Senate is working for a $100 Million tax cut (a combination of income tax and sales tax reductions). That amount will have to be subtracted from the total.

The House and Senate Transportation Committee has committed to spending $200 Million on the state’s transportation needs.

Teachers and other public employees need and deserve a pay increase. That will cost around $128.4 Million.

Appropriations Subcommittees have submitted a prioritized list (see pages 2 - 4 of the caucus figure sheet, also linked above) of things they feel need to be funded. Those recommendations add up to $221.63 Million.

Finally, many bills with ongoing fiscal notes are working their way through the process. If all the good ones pass - and they’re all good, just ask the sponsors – the state will pay around $100 Million.

It’s time for a little reality check

Revenues are up but the state will not have the money to fund every worthy request. Utah Legislators will hammer out a balanced budget – and are going to make some very difficult decisions in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Parallel Tax Reform Bills

BYU NewsNet report: Utah Legislators Propose Flatter Tax.

Russell Murdock writes:
Parallel income tax reform bills are making their way through both the House and the Senate.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill that offers the same income tax-cut as does the House version.

"It's a flatter, simpler, income tax system. True tax reform," Bramble said.
While Bramble's bill is identical to the House bill in its effect on income tax, the bills differ in their approach to food sales tax. Bramble said he believes it would be economically unwise to remove sales tax on food, and that the real way to help the economy is through lowering the income tax rate.

"Ohio did something similar a few years ago [lowering the income tax rate]," Bramble said. "It helped stimulate economic development, leading to more, higher paying jobs. I believe this same economic development would occur in Utah."

To achieve this economic development, the proposed tax reform would lower the state income tax rate for Utah residents from 7 percent to 4.9 percent.

In a Nutshell: Observations from Behind the Scenes

Tom Hatch’s wife, Kay, is a long time participant in the goings-on at the Capitol.

Senate Intern Laura Barlow stopped her in the Senate Offices an hour ago and asked a few questions for today's “In A Nutshell” piece.

Listen to the MP3.

Who said the Senate doesn’t believe in Darwin?

Wednesday’s Daily Herald covered the Seat Belt Debate:
"This is a case of taking away a personal choice or freedom without sufficient cause," [Senator] Christensen said.

No one disputed that seat belts increase driver safety. Christensen even included a reference to "unbelted human missiles" who pay the price for being unbelted in a wreck.

"We could also assume," he added, "that all those who are not wearing seat belts will soon be killed anyway -- and then we'll have 100 percent compliance."
Natural selection at work.

Senator Hale's seat belt bill passed the Senate, 15 to 10. Our apologies to the gene pool.

Who wants a big, fat tax cut?

Thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary in today's UPD:

Publisher’s Opinion

The Legislative Dilemma: Cut Taxes or Invest in Future


Who wants a big, fat tax cut?

Not citizens, according to every poll done on the subject. Not Republicans, according to those same polls.

Not the editorial boards of KSL TV/Radio, the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Morning News, Standard-Examiner, Daily Herald, and the Spectrum in Southern Utah. The editorial boards are unanimous: spend the surplus on infrastructure and urgent needs, not on a big, fat tax cut.

Not business leaders. The Salt Lake Chamber and other Chambers, whose members include thousands of large and small businesses, are not itching for a big tax cut. They prefer to ensure a bright economic future by investing surplus dollars in transportation and economic development.

I can’t find anyone these days (except maybe that lonely voice of the Sutherland Institute) who really wants a big, fat tax cut.

A modest tax cut, yes. Something in the range of $60 million to $100 million. Fine. But smart business leaders, citizens and elected officials all over the state know that it makes no sense to cut taxes now and then have to somehow come up with billions of dollars later to cover the state’s massive infrastructure backlog. It’s pay now or pay a whole lot more later. Construction costs are dramatically escalating.

It’s not that most Utahns like government taking their money. But they fully understand the state’s needs and see the value of investing to position the state for the future and ensure a high quality of life, good education for children, and mobility for citizens and businesses. It’s a clear choice. They’d rather have the Legislature make the investments than put a few bucks back in their own pockets.

In a way, it’s a strong vote of confidence in the Legislature. We’re saying we trust you to spend our money wisely. We believe Utah’s political leaders are frugal. You are responsible. We don’t have massive unfunded pensions. The state’s bonding activity is well within reason. You balance the budget, every year. You’re not raising taxes. You’re putting most of the surplus money into true investments, not massively building base budgets or the size of government.

We love the fact that our economy is booming, producing more revenue, which allows money to be invested in transportation and economic development that will pay long-term dividends.

On a very personal basis, that’s what I prefer. I pay a lot of taxes and I hate giving so much money to the federal government, but I’m happy with the services I receive at the state and local levels for the taxes I pay.

It’s hard to imagine many people in Utah County wanting a big tax cut while the county faces a transportation system near crisis with no resolution in sight. It’s hard to imagine many people in Washington County wanting a big tax cut while facing incredible water and highway needs to serve an exploding population expected to reach 205,000 by 2015 and half a million people less than 20 years later.

My prediction: By the end of the legislative session, lawmakers will have gone through their appropriations committee hearings; they will fully understand the true needs of the state; they will see there is no great clamor for a large tax cut; and thus the tax cut will be modest, not massive. And that’s the way it should be.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In a Nutshell: Tax Cuts vs. Tax Reform

Senator Bramble, Co-Chair of the 2005 Tax Reform Task Force, discusses short-term tax cuts vs. long term reform.

Listen to the MP3.

Bishop Niederhauer

The Utah State Senate joined Governor Jon M. Huntsman and the House today in honoring Bishop George H. Niederhauer, for his many years of service and leadership.

We thank Bishop Niederhauer and wish him the very best in his new calling as Archbishop in San Francisco.

Listen to Bishop Niederhauer's prayer in the Senate Chamber.

Read the citation.

Politics1 Award

We were suprised and honored to learn the Senate Site was selected for the Politics1.com Site of the Day Award.

Ron Gunzburger, publisher of www.Politics1.com, said his site gets about 250,000 page views per week, so we may have a few new visitors.

Welcome to the site. Hope you find it helpful.

63 to 54

Enough said!

Almost.

Here's Representative Paul Ray blocking Lt. Governor Gary Herbert; Jami Palmer stands ready for the pass.


















And the Veto Proof team.

Did I mention we won 63 - 54?

[UPDATE:] You can see the Governor's pictures here. Don't miss Mark Shurtleff's tattoo.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In a Nutshell: What to build in '06

Most agree that a significant portion of the State’s one-time money should be invested in desperately-needed buildings and facilities.

At the close of today's session, Senator Bill Hickman explained what the Senate Capital Facilities Committee recommends.

Click here to listen.

You’ll need to bring up this PDF of the Capitol Projects Request List to follow along.

Dixie Says Thanks

Dave Watson, of Washington County, thanked the Utah Senate today for quick attention and support during last year's floods. He jokingly mentioned that the damage Southern Utah experienced was so catastrophic it is still being shown on CNN’s Weather Channel.

In addition to the state loan, which helped rebuild essential infrastructure, over $2.8 million has been raised for private costs. Seven different lending institutions rallied together to forgive nearly three-quarters of a million dollars of debt by those whose homes were lost.

The independent pioneering spirit of many of the victims, coupled with community support, and an instant jumpstart provided by the State of Utah allowed those impacted to recover more quickly and effectively than what was previously believed feasible.

Mmmmmmmmmmm . . .

The Senate Freezer:

Full of Aggie Ice Cream, courtesy of Utah State University.

Delicious.

You might want to get some too.

Monday, February 06, 2006

USTAR 101

One piece of legislation that promises to leave an enduring legacy in terms of reputation, economy and culture is the Utah Science, Technology and Research initiative (USTAR). In fact, in the years to come we may well regard this as the most significant piece of legislation to be considered in the 2006 Legislative Session.

The good folks at Utah Policy Daily have compiled a helpful cache of information on the subject.

Call it USTAR 101.

In A Nutshell: Credit Freeze Vote

Senator Carlene Walker reacts to the Senate vote on her Credit Freeze bill.
Listen to the MP3.

Read the blog she posted this morning.

Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth (EASY)

Various Governing Youth Councils visted the Capitol today to show support for SB 58, which will help curb alcohol sales to youth.

Senator Knudson, Senate Majority Leader and sponsor of SB 58, stopped by the rally in the plaza to express his appreciation for their efforts and participation.

Visit from the Bishop

Congressman Rob Bishop visited the Utah Senate today and shared his thoughts on ...

* Utah Military Facilities
* Blocking a High Level Nuclear Waste Repository
* West Desert Wilderness Designation
* Public Lands in the American West
* No Child Left Behind
* Utah State Legislature, and
* Good Old Fashioned Federalism

Good little speech. You can listen to his remarks on our website (requires RealPlayer).

Congressman Bishop with interns in the Senate Kitchen.

Identity Fraud Protection

By Carlene Walker
Utah State Senator, District 8

As the threat and reality of identity theft increases, legislation to protect each individual’s personal information and credit becomes increasingly important.

I am sponsoring Senate Bill 71, a bill that will provide a pro-active, preventative way for you to protect yourself from identity theft. It would allow consumers to place a “freeze” on their credit information with each of the three national credit bureaus. This would restrict credit checks unless specifically requested by the individual.

Similar legislation has been enacted in 12 other states. However, these laws allow the credit bureaus three days to “unfreeze” an individual’s credit. This places a burden on business as it eliminates instant credit. The bill I am sponsoring would require the credit bureaus to “unfreeze” an individual’s credit in 15 minutes.

Two years in the crafting has made this bill business-friendly and the credit bureaus have agreed to an eighteen month implementation period.

This bill was given favorable recommendation by the Business and Labor committee and currently awaits debate on the floor.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Session Perspective

By Lyle Hillyard
Senator: District 25

As we end the third week of the ’06 session, several impressions are clear.

1. The unique personalities and perspectives became clear but are beginning to settle down as the session progresses. Sometimes people need to express their concerns or just throw ideas out for further debate and consideration. Some ideas even gain “legs” and start to take on life.

As the session develops, most realize that final decisions must be made and, for the vast part, good results will occur. Of course, quirks here and there will be found to the delight of the media but by and large it is truly amazing to see democracy at work; the conflicting interests and pressure packed days end up with an acceptable product.

2. An election year session with “lots of money” will put added pressure on the process. “What will look good” on resumes this fall sometimes motivates bill filings, requests, and votes. A good way to kill some real “pork projects” is to so load them down with goodies (make them like a Christmas tree) that they fall on their own lavishness.

There is truly never enough money but it is harder to say “no” when requesters have heard about all the money. It is good to get away from the Capitol and all the “requests” and just walk around town and visit with the people back home to see what they really want.

3. The task forces and interim study committees have helped refine the bills we do. The bills need less debate during floor and committee time. New ideas can be sent to interim (not to just kill them) because legislators know that process can work. The public can better access the issues and maybe by good, early work we can even quit by 6:00 p.m. on the last night.

Conflict of Interest Disclosure

FYI

Each Utah Senator's Conflict of Interest Disclosure form is available on line at the OFFICIAL Senate Site: www.utahsenate.org.

Friday, February 03, 2006

In a Nutshell: Legislature Goes Red

Today was the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Day. Surprisingly, heart disease is the number one killer of women in Utah.

Here is Senator Karen Hale with a few words about the Sea of Red at the Capitol.

More information at www.GoRedForWomen.org.

Extra Window

Today’s Utah Policy Daily gave a well-deserved nod to local Bloggers:
In Utah, the number of political blogs is also proliferating. Utah Policy Daily’s Blog Watch continues get longer as more interesting posts are made daily. We’re getting to the point where we have enough good political blogs that high-profile issues get a good airing as bloggers link to each other and to the mainstream media.
They also said some kind but improbable things about the Senate Site (See Friday Buzz: Blogs Having Bigger Political Impact).

Thanks UPD, for the kind words and constant encouragement of local political blogs. We’re working hard to create something unique and valuable here. Hope it helps.

Additional thoughts:

UPD mentioned our site’s ability convey an official's thoughts “unfiltered and undiluted by the news media.” This is true – and quite cathartic at times – but there are two other equally important reasons why we built our site:

First, Utah citizens own Utah’s government and are responsible for what happens here. Why not offer an extra window into the process?

Second, the Senate doesn’t tend to get in fistfights and grab headlines, but is engaged in some weighty decision making and sincerely trying to do the right thing. We thought there might be a few interested souls out there.

(BTW, the team of reporters assigned to cover the Senate tend towards responsibility, pleasant professionalism and accuracy. At this point, we don’t have any major grievances against them. If we do, we’ll let you know. Somehow....)

Thanks for paying attention.

Toll Roads?

From Nicole Warburton:
[Senator] Killpack said his bill is simply a "tool" to help with a $16.5 billion deficit for transportation projects over the next 25 years. It doesn't mean toll roads will be built, but it's a way to pay for roads that would otherwise have no funding, he said.

"Whether this passes, we still have to go through a process to see if tolling is appropriate," said Killpack.

"His bill does nothing more than allow us to bring the private sector in and have them help us pay," said UDOT executive director John Njord. "This is not about tolling. We can do that now."

UDOT is currently studying whether to toll the Mountain View Corridor, a freeway proposed for western Salt Lake and Utah counties. If tolling is deemed feasible in the study, and Killpack's legislation is passed, Mountain View could become the first state-owned road to be tolled under a public-private partnership in Utah.

Many west-side residents are not pleased with the idea. "We need to have the tool at our discretion," said Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, "but oh boy, pick the Mountain View Corridor and there's going to be a fight."

Mike Dmitrich: Refuge for the Oppressed and Weary

Yesterday's Trib Blog:
After House Republican staffers took his Channel 2 parka hostage the first week of the session, reporter Rod Decker has found a more hospitable storage place for the coat: Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich's office.

Legislative staffers held his coat ransom after he stashed it one too many times under an end table in the House lobby.

"Democrats are friendlier and less like to steal than Republicans," Decker joked.

-- Rebecca Walsh

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Legacy hits a speed bump

Yesterday’s headline said: Court to rule on Legacy green light

Not so fast.

Utah asked the federal district court to lift the injunction on Legacy construction. The judge determined that he did not have jurisdiction and denied the request a few hours ago.

This is Legacy. What did we expect?

Next step:

The State will file a request to lift the injunction with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

This seems to be a procedural obstacle, not a substantive one. The agreement is still in force and we expect the injunction will be dissolved – and construction will begin - in the near future.

U S T A R

Today's Utah Policy Daily:

News
Highlights



After
hearing that if the state doesn’t invest in technology it
will “become
one of the best-educated, smartest call centers in the
world,” the
Senate gives unanimous support to the USTAR economic development
initiative (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Morning News
and Daily Herald).

Sen. Mansell's SB 75 passed the Senate 28 to 0.
It now goes to the House for consideration.

Listen to the debate

Senate Vote Count


Bill Status

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Report Card

Senator Al Mansell yesterday described the original incarnation of SB 170 as a report card for local government.

Rebecca Walsh in today’s Tribune:
Think of the legislation as a “report card” prepared by developers, Mansell said.

“We have cities that are quite notorious for violating the land-use restrictions in the law,” he said Tuesday. “I decided to put this out there and let the cities see how unhappy their customers are with them.”
Senator Mansell will revise SB 170 - or put out a different bill - to address the responsibility of local governments to follow their own ordinances and spend impact fees appropriately.

Alcohol Sales to Minors

The Utah Senate passed Senator Knudson's "EASY Bill," which will help ensure stores are not selling alcohol to minors.

Read the Standard Examiner article in today's Daily Herald.

    Senate Site Feed

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