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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hot off the press! Tax Reform Bills

This afternoon, our stellar legislative staff finalized drafts for the two tax proposals that we've been discussing.
1. Tax Reform (PDF)

2. Transportation (PDF)

The Plan for Tuesday, September 5, 2006
8:00 a.m.
Revenue and Taxation Committee Meeting
Includes a public hearing on both proposals.

10:00 a.m.
Special Meeting of the Utah Senate
W125 – this meeting is open to the public. (The House of Representatives will meet at the same time in W135.)
Following the official meetings, we will break out into caucuses for lunch and further discussion. Tuesday's meetings will help us determine whether these proposals have a chance of success, should the Governor choose to call a Special Session.

As we mentioned earlier, these are big decisions; they will impact every person in the state. We would be grateful for thoughtful input.

The President of the United States

Listen to his speech to the Utahns who welcomed him at the airport (thanks, KCPW, for posting the audio).

Listen to his remarks to the American Legion National Convention. Watch it on KSL. The Washington Post has the text.

Listen to President Bush's speech at the Grand America.

Photo source: www.ksl.com.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Harvest

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25: Cache and Rich Counties

I thought I would update people about my garden, which topic began my experience in blogging.

It is doing very well this year.

I spent Saturday harvesting a case of raspberries and enough squash, cucumbers, new potatoes, corn on the cob, onions, and tomatoes to keep our house and most of the neighbors in food for the weekend. It is a great way to end the working week and see that my efforts do make some people happy. I just heard that my brother-in-law who works with me in this project will be leaving this fall for an 18 month mission with his wife to Scotland so it looks like I will have another challenging summer. Any volunteers who want to run a tiller are invited to apply.

The new potatoes and tomatoes are well worth it.

Tax Reform: Summary & Update

Why write from scratch when Alan Choate already did the heavy lifting? Today's Daily Herald:
The income tax proposals would "finish the work we started" in this year's legislative session, said state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. Lawmakers reduced the sales tax on food, but legislation that would've lowered the income tax rate stalled in the state House of Representatives.

The current proposal would expand the income tax brackets -- currently, all income over $8,400 is taxed at the highest rate of 7 percent. Moving that threshold up would mean more of a person's income would be taxed at a lower rate.

That change would take effect in time for the 2006 tax year. The other component of income tax changes -- a flat tax -- would take effect next year.

If the flat tax option makes it into law, taxpayers would figure their taxes as they always do and then also multiply their taxable income by a flat rate. The lower amount would be the income tax due.

"We're adding one additional computation. It adds two lines to the front page" of the tax form, said Bramble.

"We pushed for true reform for the last three years and we couldn't get legislative support," Bramble added. "This is an incremental step in the reform process. It is a big deal, introducing a flat tax into our system."

The changes would introduce a tax cut estimated at $70 million.

The other measure that would be before lawmakers concerns transit projects in Salt Lake County. Legislation is needed to allow almost $900 million slated for mass transit to come from a sales tax increase instead of a property tax hike.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Special Sessions Threaten Good Government

By Howard Stephenson
Utah State Senator, District 11

Several legislators and the Governor’s office are pushing for a special legislative session in September to consider a dual income tax proposal and light rail sales tax hike.

Special legislative sessions are the most dangerous time of the legislative process as rules are suspended, mischief is enabled, and mistakes are often made in the rush of getting things through in a single day or sometimes two. Taxpayers and ordinary citizens are almost always losers in special sessions.

Special sessions are pressure cookers where the will of the loudest and most persistent often carries the day, instead of wise decisions being made on sound principles with adequate time for debate and public input. Often, as the special session extends late into the evening and early morning hours, legislators give in to agreements which the next day they wish they had not made. For example, a few years ago there was a special session regarding sales tax exemptions and the legislature was deadlocked on the solution. Leadership kept both bodies up past midnight. Around 1:00 a.m., seeing no end in sight, many legislators became grumpy and wanted to go home. They successfully pressured other members to capitulate. This is not how the people’s business should be conducted.

The challenges to legislative staff by special sessions are even greater than challenges to legislators, as amendments which during the general session might be drafted and vetted over a few days, are required to be drafted in hours or sometimes minutes. Accurate fiscal notes are even more difficult to obtain than quality drafting.

Special Sessions often lead to embarrassment of the legislature. For example, in the last special session the press had a field day with the legislature regarding our refusal to fund Medicaid dental. It is possible and perhaps likely that the public will have similar criticisms of the legislature in a September special session.

Special sessions should be avoided like the plague. They are dangerous places. The legitimate purposes of special sessions include natural or economic disasters which need immediate attention, or for correcting mistakes made in general sessions on issues for which delay would cause undue harm.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto

Pluto is no longer a planet.

Pat Jones is no longer a Democrat.

President Valentine is no longer dead.

Snakes are no longer welcome in Mapleton.


Isn’t there anything on which we can depend?

The answer is YES. It's the First Natural Law of the Legislative Process, as explained by John Dougall on Dynamic Range.

Watch for it as we approach the September 5th meetings on tax reform and a possible Special Legislative Session next month.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Vigilance

By Chris Buttars
Utah State Senator, District 8

I appreciate SLC Spin, the Utah Beehive, and Phil Windley for being vigilant, but I did not intentionally challenge centuries of progress in the inalienable rights of mankind.

The decision in Brown v. Board of Education was a pivotal moment in American History. In the larger context of dismantling institutionalized racism in the South, I believe it was the right decision.

In the more specific framework of education, however, I believe the decision actually hurt many minority students. That’s why I said what I did on the radio.

But the way I said it was wrong and suggested that I believe Brown v. Board of Education was wrong. I believe it was a brilliant and brave decision. In fact, it fired the bullet that shattered the wall of segregation.

For more information on the educational dimension I mentioned above, let me suggest the book Education Myths, by Jay P. Greene. I would recommend it to anyone interested in education policy.

Charley Foster said,
"There are legitimate arguments that Brown was poorly reasoned (although no one will argue that its outcome was wrong), but one has to be extremely careful and sensitive when making such an argument."
I neglected to do that.

I apologize for accidentally setting off any alarm bells. My statement was poorly worded, in fact terribly worded. I wish I would have spoken more clearly or had more time on the radio show to explain exactly what I meant.

Senator Buttars on KCPW

Senator Buttars spoke to Lara Jones on KCPW this morning. Topics include . . .
  • Last night's Brown v. Board of Education Comment
  • Judicial Retention

  • Constitutional Relationship Between Church and State
  • Last Year's Evolution Bill

  • Drug Offenders Reform Act (DORA)
Listen to the Midday Metro podcast.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Site Visit Recap

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25

I thought I might share a handful of impressions from last week’s Legislative Site Visit to the Uintah Basin.

We drove to the basin on Sunday afternoon (we got an early start on the five hour drive from Logan to Vernal as the events were to begin Monday at 10 a.m.). We stopped in Roosevelt to eat and found the restaurant busy with young couples and lots of children. They did not look like the locals I would have expected to see in my home town. I believe most were recent move-ins connected with the oil boom and would be a welcome addition to the area.

Because many of the recent move-ins are connected with the oil boom, the Basin will be faced with some unique challenges, especially in education. These families may have had to move around to find these tough but high paying jobs. That means a significant percentage of new families probably will not be seeking permanent housing. I was told that the motels are full due to the people who are moving in for the oil boom. Their children may have attended their last school for a short amount of time and may only be entering their new school on a temporary basis. This presents a challenge to the public schools in the Basin. We need to be sure that these children are given the special attention they need and deserve so that they are properly educated.

It was close to sunset as we drove from Roosevelt to Vernal and there were rain clouds to the east. I saw one of the most spectacular rainbows in size and color that I can remember seeing. We arrived in Vernal and enjoyed the main street with its huge containers full of flowers. A truck was driving along them with flasher lights watering each container. A city that makes the effort to create such beauty along their main street shows a lot of pride. I wished every city that was a gateway to the state made such effort. It began our visit on a very positive note.

I was disappointed to learn that all the oil produced in the Basin has to be taken to North Salt Lake to be refined. Even then, the refinery capacity is not large enough to handle all the oil that is being produced. The environmental issues are so heavy that no new refinery has been built in America in 30 years and none are planned for construction. No wonder we are so dependent on oil produced in other countries. I was concerned for the people in the area to see the large number of huge oil tankers that drive from the Basin along Highway 40 down Parley’s Canyon to North Salt Lake. These are federal issues, but the State should be doing what we can to correct that problem.

Early Monday morning I took a walk along Main Street. I noticed that almost every fast food place had "Help Wanted"” signs out in front. I also learned that the enrollment at the Uintah Basin USU branch and the ATC has not grown with students just out of high school, as they expected. High school graduates are not seeking higher education because they can get oil production jobs and make $18 to $20 per hour. Many of their parents experienced the oil boom during the late 70’s and did the same thing. They found out that not furthering their education was a bad decision, long term, so many of the parents are coming back and filling the classes in the evening. These schools are doing a good job at making classes available when the people can take them.

I thought it was curious that at the public meeting we held in Vernal on Monday night, not one question was asked about public or higher education.

I was overwhelmed by the people there and their willingness to make us feel welcome, while showing the challenges they face. Elected officials were committed to serve the people and help solve the challenges they are given. They have to cope with the increased interest in the natural resources due to the increase in the value of oil. They take great pride in the area where they live, want to retain the good, and help adjust to the changes that are coming. We couldn’t have asked for better hosts.

Rep. John Mathis and Rep. Gordon Snow together with Sen. Beverly Evans did a great job putting the program together. We all will miss Sen. Evans who has chosen not to seek re-election. She has worked very hard to represent not only her District or the Basin but the whole state. She should feel a great deal of satisfaction with the long-lasting impact she has had on our state.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Retention for Utah Judges

By D. Chris Buttars
Utah Senator, District 10

I believe - as currently construed- that judicial retention races are worthless. Ask 100 random people on the street . . . . 98% or more will tell you they know nothing about the judges up for retention or even WHICH judges are up for retention. Many will be unaware of what a retention race is.

We do have checks and balances in place, but there again 98% plus of the random people on the street have no idea what they are. One is the Judicial Conduct Commission. It is a wonderful program, but I doubt that the average Utah voter knows the name of the commission, how to access it or even knows of its existence at all.

Because of these concerns, I opened a bill file, and I did so publicly (I didn’t hold it private) to see if someone had a great idea how to bring a more effective check or balance into the judicial retention process. The bill file was referred to key analysts and we begin the research process to create a first draft.

In a recent conversation, I mentioned my concerns to a member of the media. When pressed for an example I said something like, "Well, you could bring them back to the senate for a retention hearing." That's all it took for the media to begin its "Buttars Wants To Destroy the Separation-of-Powers" campaign. No doubt at this point you have seen it in every newspaper. It’s the only message they are reporting on this issue. It is interesting to note that the first draft of my bill has not even been issued.

Some good things have come out of the media frenzy. I have had a number of callers with judicial conduct horror stories - some with little merit, but others with great ideas on how we can enhance Judicial Retention Races.

I sit on the Judicial Confirmation Committee, and know firsthand that 98+ percent of our judges are the cream of the crop. Nevertheless, we may have some rogue judges that totally ignore the law in favor of creating their own. That is flat wrong.

Our entire system was developed to have effective checks and balances. The check on judges discussed above are retention races and the Judicial Conduct Commission. But, once again, we will find most of the public unaware of the conduct of individual judges up for retention races; nor are they aware of the excellent resource of the Judicial Conduct Commission to vent a complaint or concern.

I'm trying to work out a way to increase public awareness regarding retention elections, the infrequent but damaging rogue judge, and/or the Judicial Conduct Commission. My bill hasn't even be drafted yet. If someone out there has an ideas on how to make this work, I would love to hear from you. Please give me a call at (801) 561-0535.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Today's Doug Wright Show

Senator Howard Stephenson was a guest on the Doug Wright Show this morning. Here’s the recap on the Taxpayers Association blog.

Also - don't miss the slow-motion economist barfight here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Something to Chew On

The Senate Majority will hold a special caucus meeting, probably in early September, to discuss the latest tax proposals.
Salt Lake Tribune: Guv may call special session on a tax deal

Deseret Morning News: Tackling taxes, transit

Out of Context: Breaking Rules

Deseret Morning News: Will Utah tax cut climb to 120 million?

Salt Lake Tribune: $70 million tax cut could become $120 million

Out of Context: Leading Out

[Update] Saturday’s Tribune: Special session runs into skeptics
Big decisions. Please leave your comments.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Uintah Basin 2006

Duchesne County oil production site, looking north.


Greg Bell, Howard Stephenson [oil rig] Brad Johnson, Dan Eastman


Someone please turn the air conditioner on!


Alice Hillyard, Senator Bev Evans, and Senator Karen Hale


Adequate cell phone signal. Sometimes.


John Dougall: the man, the legend.


Presentation by representatives of the Ute Nation.


Senators Arent and Niederhauser and Mrs. Niederhauser at Newfield Production.

Q & A at the Town Meeting in Vernal. 175 people participated: legislators, residents, local officials and a few staffers.


Site Visit 2006

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator

This week will mark another legislative site visit to a rural area of the state so we can see first hand the problems we only hear about at the Capitol and give the local residents a chance to speak with us. I have really enjoyed these events and have learned a lot about what we can do to improve the quality of life for all our citizens.

Our actions to put legislative committees, chamber debates and other events on the internet have helped open up the process to those who normally can only catch snippets on the TV or radio or the larger newspapers. Early on, we took some criticisms in the Salt Lake media that these were only "junkets." It is true that we try to have fun events as part of the time there but I am sure that those riding on a school bus around St. George about 2:00 p.m. in July did not find that the most enjoyable thing they could have been doing.

Last year, I had the honor of helping to host the site visit to Northern Utah. It was fun to see our local officials become involved in the planning and enjoy the experience. I am sure the local officials in the Basin will have the same experience.

I think the biggest surprise last year was the shock to see how many of the fruit farms in Perry and Willard are gone, the same with the farm land in Cache Valley. Where are all the people coming from? What will we do for food if the outside producers can’t get here? In the Uintah Basin we enjoy the revenue from the renewed oil and gas productions but have we really been fair to the areas that have had to suffer under the growth without needed help? I hope the press will feel the need to cover the event - not just to spy on legislators and make sure they don’t have any fun - but to cover the concerns and broadcast them in such a way that the whole state will know what is happening in an important area that currently has some very serious challenges. These site visits are extremely informative. I believe they result in better legislation and are well worth the time away from the office.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Preparing for the demise of Roe v. Wade

By Darin Peterson
Utah State Senator, District 24

Paul Ray is drafting a bill that – in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned – would make abortion illegal, with several appropriate exceptions.

Read his blog on the House Site.

I support the idea. I like the proactive assertion of our values. I like the fact that this will send a message about the will of the people in my district and our state.

Most of us feel abortion is wrong but are held captive by an old, bad court decision. Strict limitations would make our laws in this area humane. The exceptions for cases of rape, incest, health of the mother, etc. would make it reasonable.

This nation was founded by people who felt individual responsibility was our centerpiece. Freedom means you make your choices and then live with the consequences. Abortion as a form of birth control throws those principles out the window.

A choice to allow or have an abortion is not a minor decision. Lives are at stake. Short-circuiting principles of personal responsibility has a dangerous, negative impact in families, communities and societies wherever it occurs.

I look forward to lending my support to Paul Ray’s bill.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Uintah Basin Site Visit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2006


UTAH STATE LEGISLATURE TO VISIT THE UINTAH BASIN

WHO: Members of the Utah State Legislature

WHAT: Legislative Site Visit to the Uintah Basin

WHEN: Monday, August 7, 2006 and Tuesday, August 8, 2006

WHERE: Various Locations in the Uintah Basin (see attachment)

# # #

Small is Beautiful. Maybe.

Carlene Walker delves into details of creating smaller school districts with Jennifer Napier-Pierce in this week’s edition of Inside Utah.

Listen to the MP3.

Senator Walker's previous blog: Good news for smaller school districts.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Frank Discussion

Representative Craig Frank just moved in to the Utah Blog Neighborhood.

Check out his new site at underthedome.org.

Surplus Challenge

Glen Warchol addresses the growing budget surplus in Surplus cash brings cheers and groans.

Dig into the legislator quotes and you can grab a thumbnail education on the current budget landscape in the Utah State Legislature.

John Valentine:
Senate President John Valentine points out that most of the $172 million surplus at the 2006 session and the $351 million now, is generated by income taxes that are earmarked for education alone.

"We are going to see significant pressure for increased spending in education and that's a good thing," he says, but, "We are very concerned the general fund is not growing."

The general fund, mainly made up of sales tax revenues, pays for all other government services.
Curt Bramble:
"In my six years in the Legislature, we have not seen near the acrimony and contention as in the last session," Bramble says, "In many ways it was driven by the [surplus] money...."
Greg Hughes:
"We can invest in education or we can invest in transportation, or - more importantly - we can return it to the taxpayer," says Hughes, chairman of the Republican Conservative Caucus. Hughes and his colleagues warn that gleeful spending in times of surplus means inevitable painful cuts in times of deficit.

Wives Tales

From the Article Six Blog by way of UPD's Blog Watch.
Monday morning Kate O’Beirne of National Review was on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. (Podcast here.) Among other subjects, O’Beirne commented on presidential politics.

Reviewing the current field of likely or potential GOP candidates and their potential appeal to conservative values-oriented voters, she noted that all the candidates but one had divorces in their past: Giuliani and Gingrich are on their third marriages, and Allen and McCain are on their second, while Romney’s been married to the same woman for 30-plus years.

Thus, O’Beirne noted, “The candidate in the race with the fewest wives is the Mormon!”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Capitol Summer

A few snapshots for those of you who have not been back to The Hill for a while . . . .


The new reflecting pool in the plaza is up and running.

The sound of falling water provides a soothing counterpoint to the jackhammers in the historic Capitol Building.

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