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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Site

Have you seen the Trib's website redesign?

Awesome.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dollars and Accountability

By Lyle Hillyard
State Senator, District 25

I attended the Governor’s Education Summit and then the joint meeting of the Public and Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittees during the last two weeks. I am excited about helping the Governor accomplish some pretty lofty goals for education in the next session.

Our current surplus is mainly in income tax (a.k.a. education money). Given this year's tax cut, and all the talk about future tax cuts, there seems to be a great deal of apprehension in the education community. I do not sense a great deal of interest in just adding more money to public education without some clearly agreed upon goals or accountability.

Recently, I was concerned to hear from a CPA from Kentucky that they are not finding people who are willing to spend the time training to become CPA’s. At the NCSL annual meeting last year, Bill Gates expressed his concern that he was being forced to look for engineers in India because the American students were not willing to pay the price of such a challenging education. He said the fastest growing major at our Universities was exercise science so people could become fitness trainers. I think we need more rigorous high school classes so that our children are really ready for what post-secondary education should be expecting.

I am also convinced that investing in more updated computers would be a good use of some of our one-time surplus.

I have learned that money can only be spent once. I hope people will rivet attention on the Governor, his staff, legislators and educational leaders as we try to make a meaningful impact in public education while also addressing the desire to cut taxes and reduce government. This work will be challenging; hopefully we can reach an agreeable compromise.

Thorpe Waddingham

In Saturday's Deseret Morning News:
Former Utah Senate President Thorpe Waddingham died Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, at age 83.

Mr. Waddingham became active in politics as a delegate to state and county conventions. He was elected to the Senate in 1959 and served for a time as Senate president. He also was once a majority leader and twice a minority leader in the Legislature. He was a lawyer and a Democrat from Delta.

Mr. Waddingham was a water attorney and was considered an expert on complicated state and federal water law. He was deeply involved in the Intermountain Power Project in the late 1970s.

He flew a B-24 bomber in World War II, was shot down over Hungary and served 13 months as a prisoner of war.

Mr. Waddingham was considered a character in Utah politics. He had a reputation for being able to bring disparate viewpoints to the table and effectively mediating the differences.

He once had a meeting with the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson and was driving up in the late afternoon from Delta. He arrived hours late, and the governor asked him where he was. He told the governor that he had made himself a promise after surviving combat and being a prisoner in the war: If he ever saw a beautiful sunset, he would stop and enjoy it. Apparently there was a beautiful sunset on the way to his Capitol meeting that day.

Mr. Waddingham attended Snow College, where he served as student body president, and he graduated from George Washington University Law School. He served as Delta City attorney and was president of the Utah State Bar in 1963.

His wife, Norma Michaelsen Waddingham, died in 2002. He is survived by five children. Funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25, in the Delta 3rd Ward LDS meetinghouse.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

4th Seat in Congress

By John L. Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

The Governor, Speaker and I just discussed a map draft for a fourth seat in Congress.

Check it out and tell us what you think.

We have been proportionally underrepresented in Congress for several years now. It is well past time to put Utah citizens on equal footing with our neighbors in other states.

I certainly appreciate all those who have worked so hard on the issue.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Closure 2006

From the Guv's press release:
"Finally we have closure on the business of the last legislative session. This will provide tools to improve the State’s long-term economic competitiveness and our transportation infrastructure," Governor Huntsman said. "Now it is time to continue, even redouble, our efforts to make education our single most important priority as a State."

HB 4001: Transportation

The Utah Senate just passed the Transportation Bill, 24 to 5, with a few minor amendments.

[Update 7:10 p.m.] The House of Representatives concurred with the Senate amendments. This bill passed both bodies with the 2/3 majority needed to make it effective immediately.

SB 4001: Income Tax Amendments

The Utah Senate just passed SB 4001, 22 to 7, with one amendment.

Senator Mike Dmitrich proposed amending the bill to index the brackets for inflation, which passed on a unanimous voice vote.

[Update 6:45 p.m.] The House of Representatives passed the Tax Cut / Tax Reform bill, but amended it to simplify bracket numbers and provide a top rate of 6.98 percent. It will come back to the Senate for concurrence. Our analysts are working on the fiscal note for that amendment. We’ll reconvene when it is ready.

[Update 8:45 p.m.] The price tag for the Dunnigan amendment turned out to be about $2 million higher than what we passed. The Senate agreed to it, and adjourned.

Watch for Pizza

The Tax Cut / Tax Reform Bill debate will begin in Senate Chambers. Scheduled start time is 2:00 p.m. which means we’ll get rolling around 2:20 p.m. LST. Click here to listen or watch.

The Transportation Bill will start in the House.

End time? We’re taking bets. One optimistic staffer predicts we’ll be done by 6:00 p.m. Some of the old timers think we’ll be here until at least 9:00 p.m. Mike Mower at the Guv's Office gave up Elton John tickets to keep tabs on the legislative festivities. He said we'd better darn well be in session until 7 to justify missing Sir Elton.

Watch for the Pizza Delivery Guy. Pizza = late night session. No pizza means we go home for dinner.

We put the Senate Cam in the hallway outside our leadership offices. (Username: life, Password: elevated).

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Step in the Right Direction

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Michael Young just posted the following on the University of Utah's website:
. . . we are requesting a stay in our federal action pending the outcome of discussions with state leaders on a possible legislative accommodation to address our commitment to maintain a safe environment for students, faculty, staff, and patients. . . . We have agreed, with the Attorney General’s office, to suspend temporarily enforcement of our policy regarding firearms on campus and modify our practices to comply with state law.
The feeling here in the Senate is appreciation of the University’s willingness to engage in the democratic process, and recognition that this probably should have taken place a long time ago. There is no good reason sharp minds can't craft a common sense policy that respects both academic and constitutional freedoms. We appreciate President Young, the productive relationships he has built and the work he has done on behalf of the U.

Here’s Pamela Manson in the Trib.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Prioritizing Transportation

By Sheldon Killpack
Utah State Senator, District 21

We’re set to discuss a major transportation plan on Tuesday. I should probably offer a few thoughts about this bill and outline the key points of the legislation.

First, this is not simply about UTA or a few Trax lines in Salt Lake County. Our desire is to formulate a policy that works for the entire state.

Second, this plan includes a big push for corridor preservation. While Transit has been able to preserve many of their future corridors, roads have a long way to go. Open areas are being developed and land prices are rising where future roads need to be built. We’re going to lose these corridors if we don’t act soon. This plan reserves 25 percent of a potential tax increase for corridor preservation. The other 75 percent can be sliced up between road projects, mass transit, and airports depending on how they play out in the criteria weighting process.

With transportation demands outstripping available dollars, taxpayers should expect a process that gives them the biggest bang for their buck. This is a big step in the right direction.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the transportation bill:
* This bill would prohibit the use of property tax for fixed-guideway systems beginning January 2007.

* It gives every county in the state the opportunity to place on the ballot an additional quarter-cent sales tax for their transportation needs, specifically: corridor preservation, state roads of regional significance, public transit (including light rail and commuter rail), local roads of regional significance; and airports.

* It requires both the county government and the taxpayers to vote to approve the tax increase before it can be imposed.

* It sets aside 25 percent of the new tax money for corridor Preservation for new capacity road projects.

* The proposal makes the Local Council of Governments responsible to develop a system to weigh all regional transportation projects against each other and develop a prioritized list.

* It creates a process to determine how the funds will be expended.
For more detail, see the summary prepared by our staff upstairs or the bill itself.

Special Session Tuesday

The Governor just called a Special Session for Tuesday, September 19, 2006. We'll be discussing 2 bills: Income Tax Reform and Transportation.

Here's Governor Huntsman's Proclamation.

The Senate schedule for Tuesday looks something like this:
8:00 a.m.
Misc. Meetings

9:00 a.m.
Joint Meeting: Revenue & Taxation Committee and Transportation Committee (Room W135)

9:00 a.m.
Executive Appropriations

11:00 a.m.
Legislative Management

12:00 p.m.
Caucus Lunch Meetings

2:00 p.m.
Special Legislative Session
As always, you’ll be able to listen live on-line. Just go to the Official Site and follow the links to audio. Call us with any questions.

And boy are they tired!

KCPW: "Utah lawmakers have been gyrating for months . . . ."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Elements in the Legislature"

Update from the MSM Titans of Insight. That may sound sarcastic but it's really not. Seriously, you need to read their stories. (Reserving, of course, your loyalty and unquestioning belief for what you read right here at The Senate Sight.)
Deseret Morning News: Surplus helps tax plan

Salt Lake Tribune: Tax deal may spell derail for TRAX

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Computer Guru

The SenateCam is now precariously balanced on the cubical wall overlooking the desk of computer guru and master mechanic, Greg Johnson.

It's a little like watching Albert Einstein at work.

The President's Speech

Yesterday evening, Senate President John Valentine offered the following remarks to those participating in the Freedom Walk at Liberty Park:
September 11, 2006

Today, as we remember 9/11, we should remember this has happened before.

On December 7, 1941, a hostile nation launched a surprise attack on American soil. The attack was deliberately planned and violently executed by men who hated our nation and feared our abilities.

America reacted . . . like Americans.

We united around our leaders and our soldiers. We pulled together as a nation. We fought the enemy for as long as they considered themselves our enemies. And we won the war.

Then we won the peace.

And we will do it again.

We will pull together as a nation. We will beat them without becoming them. We will protect our land without discarding that which makes it worth protecting.

We will win when winning means something much more difficult than killing our enemies. Winning means transforming their societies by giving them the best we have to offer: the gifts of political freedom and the gifts of opportunity. Winning sometimes means the heartbreaking sacrifice of our best and most promising young soldiers.

America is facing a historic trial, and challenge . . . and we will face it, like always,

Like Americans.

May we be great without being arrogant.

May we be worthy of praise without being destroyed by our pride.

Rudyard Kipling asked (and reminds all of us):
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or [other kin] without the law--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard--
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard--
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!
May we always remember WHAT has made this nation great, WHO has made this nation great, and IF we are great . . . for what purpose?

I echo - and believe - today what Franklin D. Roosevelt believed when he spoke to Congress on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor:
"With confidence in our armed forces -- with the unbounded determination of our people -- we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remember

Photo taken by Tom Franklin for The Record of Bergen County.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Good Call

By Michael Waddoups
Utah State Senator, District 6

The Utah Supreme Court affirmed today, that the University of Utah and all other state agencies need to comply with state law, even laws with which they disagree. It was a good call.

From the Court's decision:
". . . the Attorney General maintains that the University has no power or autonomy under the constitution that would permit it to disregard state law. We agree with the Attorney General. Indeed, the University’s claim is unsupported by the text of our state’s constitution, its historical context, or the prior decisions of this court."
I believe that students and employees at the U of U will be safer because of this ruling, in that those who need to be able to carry legally will not be restricted. Although we don't advocate everyone in society carrying a weapon, those who have submitted to the BCI permitting process add to the security of our neighborhoods and our society.

Perhaps more importantly, this ruling sends a clear message to those who would circumvent the workshop by which our laws are crafted. Our Constitution sets up the democratic process whereby our people are governed and it does not include a state agency dreaming up their own laws.

I commend Mark Shurtleff, Ray Hintze, and Brent Burnett at the AG's office for arguing this case, and I appreciate Justice Parrish for enunciating the Court's opinion so well.

I commend the Utah Supreme Court for upholding the law.

Today's Supreme Court Ruling

Senate President Valentine on the Attorney General’s press release:
I appreciate what this ruling does for the second amendment issue but, more importantly, it reaffirms that government by the people, through their elected representatives, is the law of the land. There is really no room for independent islands of authority within state government.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Grateful

By Peter Knudson
Utah Senate Majority Leader

The more I think about it the happier I feel.

I am thrilled by the breaking news that the BLM and the Bureau of Indian affairs have denied PFS permission to transport and store nuclear poison within the borders of our state. This anxious chapter in our history, apparently, is almost over. Generations to come will be held harmless from a poisonous burden, that we did not create and should not have to bear.

This has been a long road. It has used up too much of our time and treasure.

Thank you to every citizen who cared enough to take pen in hand and write to the licensing agencies at any stage of this misbegotten project.

Thank you to Utah Policy Daily and the bloggers who rallied in opposition: Representative Steve Urquhart, my colleague and Senate Minority Leader, Mike Dmitrich, SLCSpin (and here), Obiter Dicta, Part of the Plan, Utahania, Utah Planners’ Corner, Reach Upward, Jen’s Green Journal, Gary Thornock, Bob Aagard, and so many others.

I appreciate the Utah Senate who recognized a serious threat for what it was and passed the resolution opposing transport and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

I am grateful for the powerful efforts of our congressional delegation and Utah's executive branch under the past three administrations. I am grateful for other officials at the state and federal level who worked so hard to protect our state, our people, and our land. A very sincere and special thanks to the unsung heroes of the Attorney General's office who have fought this so valiantly for so long. We owe you a debt of gratitude we will never be able to repay.

Thank you to all Utah citizens who aided this resistance in so many ways.

We’ve been around the political track long enough to know that nothing is dead until it’s really dead. We will all be watching for the next move, and we’ll be ready.

I can’t quite express how grateful I am at this latest turn of events. Truly, we have been blessed and protected. I agree with Senator Hatch, as he was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune: "It couldn’t have happened to nicer people."

Great News for Utah!

Update on the Deseret Morning News' website:
WASHINGTON — Private Fuel Storage no longer has a lease to use tribal lands to store nuclear waste in Tooele County, after decisions made by two Interior Department agencies Thursday.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs opted to "disapprove" the lease after the Bureau of Land Management denied the consortium access to the federal land it would need to build a transportation facility.
"Utah spoke and the BLM listened," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "PFS is dead. It's that simple."
Salt Lake Tribune web update :
"It couldn't happen to nicer people."

Tuesday Review

It’s funny how the days we have the most to blog about are the days we have the least amount of time and energy to do it.

On Tuesday, we had an informative, exhaustive series of meetings.

The MSM covered it pretty well.
KUER: Special Session Ahead on Tax Reform

KCPW: Huntsman's Lobbying Blitz Pays Off

Trib: GOP, guv cut a tax deal

Daily Herald: Legislators agree on tax system

DesNews: Tax cuts likely for Utahns

Trib: Alliance still pushes transit sales tax hike

The upshot of the Tuesday marathon is this: 1) A significant percentage of our body dislike the idea of holding a Special Legislative Session. 2) If such a session were called, however, there are enough votes here to pass a Tax Cut/Tax Reform Bill. 3) We discussed the Transportation/Sales Tax Bill at great length but did not come to a clear consensus. Debate continues.

Look for the Governor to issue a call for a Special Session in the next week and a half. As always, we appreciate your input on the issues before us.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tuesday on the Hill

The Rev & Tax Committee and the Special Meeting of the Senate will be broadcast live over the internet. If you can't join us, you can hook into the the live audio feeds here.

To get a message to your senator, send him or her an E-mail message, or send it here and we'll pass it along ASAP.

Need to get up to speed?
Governor’s Web Site: The Agreement

Under the Dome: The Final Act

Senate Site: Chronology of Tax Reform

Dynamic Range: The Guv At Work and Income Tax Reform

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Chronology of Tax Reform (and a few observations)

By Curt Bramble
Senate Vice Chair of Executive Appropriations, and Chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee

Utah’s tax system is difficult to change.

The proposal legislators will consider on Tuesday doesn’t take reform as far as many of us would like, but injecting a flat tax computation into the system is a very significant step in the right direction.

Here’s a brief history of the events that have brought us to where we are now.
2001: After years of discussion in the 1990s, the first tax reform movement in recent history was current Senate President John Valentine’s bill to spread the brackets. For the next two years we discussed indexing those brackets for inflation but were unable to gain the necessary consensus.

2003: An interim committee’s look at tax reform resulted in a 2004 task force chaired by Rep. Harper and Senator Hillyard. This new task force began to scrutinize Utah’s individual and corporate income tax system.

2004: Governor Olene Walker produced a detailed tax report and reform recommendation. We anticipated it in August 2004, but received it in November.

2005: Due, in large part, to Governor Walkers report, we authorized the Tax Reform Task Force, and spent hundreds of hours on the project. We kept a very aggressive schedule and held public meetings throughout the state. Governor Huntsman’s staff and 'brain trust' were integral to the discussions.

2006: Tax reform was a dominate topic of senate discussion during the legislative session and in the months since we adjourned.
We’re currently in our sixth year of discussion and study.

I believe it’s time to take action.

Governor Walker wanted to rely too heavily on property tax, impose sales tax on all services and do away with charitable & property tax deductions. We rejected that. Under Governor Huntsman's leadership, the proposal evolved into H3 – the flatter, fairer tax, that I consider true tax reform. After it failed in the House, we explored the double tax system – filing two different tax returns. We rejected that, too. That concept then morphed into abandonment of H3 and injecting a flat tax computation into the current system - the proposal we are now considering.

Our thesis is that broadening the tax base reduces volatility, provides more stability. A flat tax of 5.3 percent is an attractive component of that thesis that we’ve been moving toward for several years.

Some may say that the current proposal is not “tax reform.” True, it is not a major overhaul of our system. But introducing a flat tax computation is a major step. Of course, we’ll continue our discussion about a flatter tax, with a more stable, less volatile base.

I believe the current proposal is a better tax system than what we currently have. It’s better for individual taxpayers and for our state as a whole.

The Rev & Tax Committee meeting starts at 8:00 a.m. and is open to the public, as is the Special Meeting of the Senate. Those not able to attend may listen live on-line.

I’m looking forward to some great discussions on Tuesday.

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