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Monday, January 22, 2007

A Step (we think) in the Right Direction

This is a followup to Friday's post. The 21 members of the Senate Majority met on Saturday and finalized some worthy goals for this legislative session.

First of all, we decided that public education is the priority. The House Majority suggested funding Public Education at $300 million. The Governor wants $320 Million. After crafting a priority list and checking it twice we decided that the Governor’s $320 Million was the absolute minimum we would be willing to commit this year. The need is there. Look for historic levels of education funding.

Second, the caucus decided to continue the state's work on tax reform. We need to bring the rate down to a level (say, 5 percent) at which many more Utahns will reap the benefits of a flat tax. We also like the renewable energy credit, tax cuts for research and development which will attract more business to Utah, and a cut so your cable and satellite TV service are taxed at the same rate. The proposal for a uniform statewide rate for the sales tax on food is still on the table, but we need a clear picture of the impact on local government before the caucus falls in love with that one.

We think $150 million is a reasonable tax-cut target this year.

Third, avoiding unnecessary public debt has to be a top priority. We intend to set aside enough money for roads and buildings so no bond will be necessary this year. When you get a bonus, it's smart to pay off the credit cards. The Senate Majority believes we should use a chunk of the one-time surplus to pay down existing state debt.

Fourth, a pay increase for our state employees is a top priority - we need to keep up with inflation and retain our qualified workforce. Fifth, we support a funding boost for Utah’s transportation infrastructure. Sixth, it’s time to significantly increase the state’s investment in Higher Education.

This is just a start. Of course we charted out more numbers but it’s a little early to lock in. We need to hear from the public and let the appropriations & prioritization process run its course.

Bottom line: this is going to be a great year. We’re looking forward to working with our colleagues downstairs and on the other side of the aisle to hammer out all the details.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schools, taxpayers may win big
Proposed increase, tax cuts go beyond Huntsman's plan

By Glen Warchol
The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated:01/21/2007 02:33:26 AM MST

Utah's Republican senators are in a giving mood: They want to fork out more state money to public education and return more to taxpayers than even the governor does.

The painful yearly process of setting Utah's state budget vaulted forward Saturday as the Republican Senate caucus set its priorities for spending taxpayer money - including a historic $1.6 billion surplus.

Compiling a list of priorities at a rare weekend meeting, the GOP senators found room for $150 million in tax cuts. Most of it would come through Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s income-tax overhaul to allow more Utahns to file under a flat tax.

But Senate President John Valentine said the Senate envisions additional cuts in other areas, including industry research-and-development exemptions, renewable-energy credits and, possibly, a uniform statewide tax rate on groceries. That would push the tax cut $50 million beyond Huntsman's $100 million proposal.

"We would like to continue the discussion on tax reform," said Valentine, R-Orem. "We spent two years on tax reform - to finish it this year is extremely important."

In public education spending, the Senate's proposal dovetails closely with both the House GOP and the governor's recommendations. But the Senate caucus went beyond Huntsman's call for $320 million in new money, proposing the governor's figure as the minimum in public school spending, hinting they may go further.

The House GOP already has recommended a $300 million boost for education, but wants it matched with $300 million in tax cuts.

Still, the similarities between the Senate and House proposals - including a shared push to spend surplus cash on construction projects rather than borrowing - mark a dramatic turnaround from the acrimony of last year's budget battle.

"We're only a week into the session, and we're a lot closer than we were last year toward the last week of the session," said House Speaker Greg Curtis after Valentine briefed him on the proposals.

But Curtis, R-Sandy, warned that deciding which taxes to trim could trigger a clash. The House wants to explore a further reduction in the sales tax on food and a cut in the state's share of the property tax.

Senators reject a further reduction in the grocery tax and want to finish overhauling the income tax before considering a cut in property taxes.

A proposal to unify the sales tax rate on food statewide - by removing local sales tax options from groceries - intrigues both houses, but for different reasons. The House sees it as another step toward complete elimination of the grocery tax. The Senate sees it as tax simplification.

Other Senate Republican caucus priorities are public employee raises, higher education and transportation.

The senators indicated they not only would meet Huntsman's $320 million recommendation for new public education spending, but also see it as a bare minimum. The GOP senators say they also would support so-called school-choice programs, including vouchers and private tuition tax credits.

"We can match or exceed the governor's recommendations," Valentine said, but warned that senators may disagree on how that money is spent. "We want to focus on technology in the classroom, on increasing the salaries of the teachers in the classroom. We may have different focuses, but the dollar amounts we can match."

Huntsman is pleased with the direction the legislative proposals are headed, said spokesman Mike Mower. "Regardless of what plan ultimately takes shape, it's clear that Utah students are poised to be the winners at the end of this session."

gwarchol@sltrib.com



Competing budget proposals

* SENATE REPUBLICANS: Education increase of $320 million (minimum); tax cut of $150 million from income tax and various other credits.
* HOUSE REPUBLICANS: Education increase of $300 million; tax cut of $300 million from undetermined taxes.
* GOV. JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Education increase of $320 million; tax cut of $100 million from income tax.

1/27/2007 9:43 PM  
Anonymous a teacher said...

I like these proposals because we are giving a tax cut and trying to fund education at the same time. I THANK YOU for the effort.

Not let's put our ACTIONS and ATTITUDE where our money is going. Let's work to reduce the politics that come up and agendas such as those from special interest groups. I would love to have legislators in the schools OFTEN to teach about government and civics. Let's expand the JA program to teach about economics. Let's continue to fund the parent-run reading tutoring programs and have reading specialists in schools. Let's encourage and make efforts to have schools become more community-oriented. Let's get more businesses involved--for example engineers could come into classrooms to augment science and math curriculums. With their hands-on demonstrations and resources they have, they could really do a lot. Let's give local governments some say in educational policy decisions instead of just bieng from state or district levels. Let's work to find and create private grants and such that can be used to pay for certain much-needed programs and such. Let's increase the interaction and collaboration between parents and teachers. Let's stop the diatribes and agendas against teachers and realize that a lot of us are trying the best we can and DO care about kids. It doesn't help when the negative is emphasized and the disrespect you see is shown (yes many teachers need to take that same advice).

In short, let's ALL work together to improve things without all the political agendas and overtones. If I had my way too, I'd cut special interest groups (yes all of them) out of the equation entirely.

1/28/2007 9:50 AM  

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