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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Flat, Fair and Simple

The Governor’s Office has begun to circulate a tax cut proposal. Call it a major milestone in the journey we started so long ago on tax reform.

This proposal lowers Utah’s optional flat tax rate to five percent.

It addresses concerns about retaining tax benefits for charitable contributions, mortgage interest, medical expenses, etc.

Here where it really gets good:

Under this plan, 80 percent of Utahns will probably switch to the flat tax. This is not another tax cut for the wealthy. 87 percent of those making between $5K and $25K per year will save money if they switch to the flat tax. 82 percent of people making less than $50K will save if they switch. 76 percent of those making over $50K will save if they switch. No one will pay more than they do now. (Those who won’t save can stick with the old system.)

Price tag: $110 Million.

At first glance, we think this makes a lot of sense. It's fairer, flatter, and simpler. It keeps us appropriately geared toward economic development and makes Utah more competitive. We'll be discussing this proposal in detail over the next few weeks.

For those who want to dig a little deeper, here’s some eye candy in PDF.

We’d appreciate your thoughts.

Speaking of Food . . .

A Festivus Miracle has occured in the public area just outside the Senate Chambers. Click on the picture to catch the full, mouth-watering, Made-in-Utah Glory . . . .


YES, you can have one.

20 Percent

One of our astute readers noticed this little sentence buried in a Deseret Morning News article: "A fifth of Utahns said they favor removing the rest of the state sales tax on food."

A fifth = 20 percent.

One out of five. That's not a lot.

One of the reasons why we're working on other options.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Exactly.

The Tribune published a good editorial this weekend: Tax gamble: Removing grocery tax will make system less stable.

Legislative reaction to editorials is interesting. When we agree, we cheer their insight and obvious good sense ("See, even the ________ [insert local newspaper] got that one right."). When we disagree we ignore them and hope that everyone else does too ("Who reads that liberal rag, anyway?").

This time they were spot on.

An argument can be made that removing sales tax from food is morally right, depending on how you serve up your morals, but it is not the best tax policy.

Excerpts from the editorial:
"Sales tax pays for most of state government except for public education, meaning that when sales tax revenues dip in a recession, funding for most noneducation state programs will dip with it. If the sales tax is removed from groceries completely, those dips are likely to become more extreme.

"A tax expert warned the Legislature about that the other day. He testified that states without the grocery tax tend to have lower bond ratings, because the revenues are less predictable. That raises the interest rates that those states pay. They also tend to have to raise the sales tax rate on other items after they remove it from groceries."
They get it. We're glad someone does. It's eerily similar to the Senate's point of view. More:
". . . One of the goals of former Gov. Olene Walker's tax reform commission was to broaden the base of Utah's system and reduce volatility. This Legislature seems to be moving in the opposite direction."
We are going to cut taxes this year ($150 Million seems about right to the Senate). However, complete removal of the sales tax from food is not the direction we want to head this year. Income tax reform (that benefits all income levels) along with a targeted collection of tax cuts & economic incentives makes a lot more sense to us.

Intern Story

By Ronson Mckee
Intern to Senator VanTassell and Senator Hickman

I have to admit, being mentioned in a newspaper article as a senate intern was exciting (thanks Shawn) but the real focus should be on the Senators and the bills they believe in.

My perspective, for what it's worth: an intern is a person who works as an apprentice or trainee in an occupation or profession to gain practical experience. Apprentice or trainee is not the most coveted job, however the experience gained is worth the pain as we learn the inner-workings of the political system. For better or worse this intern experience is giving us interns much needed experience to make the leap from apprentice to that of a professional. It’s also cool to get to know a few of the senators personally.

Contrary to popular folklore about politicians, I’ve discovered that I would vouch for the character and moral stand of those with whom I work.

Kicked by a Horse

By Jeff Bramble
Intern for the Senate Majority Leader

Senator Bramble had quite the weekend. He figured that dealing with blood clots just wasn't enough, so he decided to compete at the legislative team penning contest. Bramble has won the event for the past 3 years and just could not find it inside of himself to let that legacy go. Bramble, returning to claim his victory, was looking very solid as he and his team held their first place lead. After the final round Bramble went to tie up his steed and, as he dismounted, the horse next to him kicked, and hammered Bramble in his leg.

Now Bramble is a tough fellow, and thought that he could handle the punch. Later that evening he wasn't feeling so well and so he finally gave in and visited his new friends at the hospital so they could check him out.

He must be the Senator with nine lives, because the doctors checked the oil and gave him a quart, checked the rest of the fluids and then sent him on his way. Brambo may have a hairline fracture in his femur but it shouldn’t slow us down much.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Congressional Visits

We were honored to host Congressmen Cannon and Matheson in the Utah Senate this week. Listen in (with RealPlayer).
Congressman Cannon’s Presentation

Congressman Matheson’s Presentation
The Cannon presentation gets downright intriguing right about 14 minutes and 45 seconds into it.

Same thing with Matheson at 5 minutes, 20 seconds.

Urqnet

Representative Urquhart shares a short history of his blog site and Politicopia.

His poor kids. No more doughnuts for them.

Joe Trippi are you still out there? Watch your backside!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Senate Schedule: Week 3

Red Rock and the Greatest Snow

By Dan Eastman
Utah State Senator, District 23

I am working with a group on a new design for Utah’s license plates. Check it out. This is just a prototype, but it captures red rock country and the Greatest Snow on Earth - the two natural wonders synonymous with Utah.

I have traveled all over the world and can proudly defend our claim to the Greatest Snow on Earth. The only place I have skied that even comes close to our powder is between Lake Louise and Banff, in Alberta, Canada. The snow flakes were the size of quarters and slid out of my hands like poker chips. I remember thinking, “This is almost as good as the snow at Alta.”

Let me know what you think about the new design.

Read the Deseret Morning News Article here.

My bill is SB 73.

And, Yes, you still have to put one on the front of your car. :-(

A quote in the right direction

We love little signs that the American spirit of resistance is alive and well. Here’s the news from Maine:
"We cannot be spending millions of state dollars on an initiative that does more harm to our state than good," said Maine's House Majority leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat, in a statement that called it a "massive unfunded federal mandate."
It sounds like they’re talking about NCLB.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Students

In the spirit of our previous two blogs (here and here), this little feast of numbers examines Higher Education funding from 1991 to 2007, alongside growth in enrollment and tuition.

Check it out. State funding is steady, but you'll notice a drastic upswing in tuition cost after 2001. As that continues, enrollment begins to drop.

Important Questions:
  • Have we financed the increased cost of Higher Ed on the backs of our students?

  • Have we begun to price our own children out of the college market?

A Little Love For DORA

The Senate likes DORA. We've had a thing for her for years.

Today on Senate Radio Senator Chris Buttars talked about the Drug Offenders Reform Act.






An exerpt from the good senator:
Politicians run on: Elect me, I'll be tough on crime.

And we lock you up.

That's wrong.

Elect me, I'll be smart on crime
, should be what we're saying.
Find the MP3 here.

Energy Efficiency Package

KSL sez:

A bi-partisan group of lawmakers . . . unveils a package of 7 bills to promote energy efficiency and renewables.

Bills include new requirements for the state's fleet, tax credits for cleaner-burning cars, or investments in renewable energy systems including solar and wind.
Sen. Greg Bell (R), Fruit Heights: "We've tried to keep politics out if it. We've tried to do it based on science and good economics."

Sen. Howard Stephenson (R), Draper: "It's important that we have a multiplicity of conserving as well as using alternative energy sources."

Rep. Ralph Becker (D), Salt Lake City: "I think the climate change issue has also really focused our citizen's attention as well as some of us in the legislature of the need to be much smarter when it comes to energy."

Rep. Roger Barrus (R), Centerville: "This truly is a work of the people. I look at this as government of the people. It's not mandated by government. We as legislators are responding to the work of this energy policy work group, who I think have done a phenomenal job."
You can read about it on The House Site too.

Spy on the Interns

For variety, we’re going to park the Senate Cam in the hallway outside Leadership Row for a few days. The web cam will ask you for a username (life) and password (elevated).

Watch the top of your browser. You might have to download an ActiveX control to see through the camera. It takes about 5 seconds.

Vouchers Again

Mizz Natalie of Education in Utah linked to this Tribune article, by Nicole Stricker. Those involved in the Vouchers issue will want to give it a scrutinizing squint.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Shrinking Government? Looking at the numbers a different way

We're hearing a lot about the rapid growth in government, so we asked staff to analyze how Utah State Government growth compares to the change in population and inflation over the past several years.

Here are several slides to scroll through that tell the story - or at least offer more perspective on the story. Check them out.

The message: Putting money in a savings account, and paying for roads & buildings doesn't grow government very much. Focus in on the expenses that actually make government bigger and you might be surprised at how the numbers pan out.

We're not in love with all government, and we're not saying this is true in other states or in D.C. but, here in Utah, government growth seems to be falling behind growth in population and inflation.

Same basic message as our last blog.

As always, we appreciate your feedback.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Government

From December 2005 to December 2006, the population of the State of Utah grew by 2.7%. Total employment in the state grew 4.7%.

This bit of research shows that the number of people employed by state government only grew 1.88%.

Bottom line: As a percentage of the total Utah workforce and as a segment of the population as a whole, your state government is shrinking.

Senate Schedule

Hughes, Colbert & Cluff re: School Choice

Rep. Greg Hughes, Bill Colbert and Mark Cluff argue that vouchers are for everyone, not just the affluent. A golden exerpt:
We are convinced that as we peel back the layers of misinformation and rhetoric, what is left is a powerful argument for increased funding for our public schools and more options and opportunities for all of Utah's children.
Check out the full article on Towner's Spyglass.

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.

Politi-what?


Another good idea from the fertile mind of Rep. Urquhart. Read Phil Windley's perspective or go straight to the source.

Back to School

By Margaret Dayton
Utah State Senator, District 15

As the legislature gets underway, I want acknowledge the appreciation of legislators for the dedication and service of good teachers in Utah. Every candidate for legislative office has their area of focus- but no matter what other issues concern a candidate, every one of them has interest in and desire to help education. Perhaps that is the reason Utah ranks first in the nation with legislator visits to the classroom. Each year Utah legislators visit public schools in the state as part of the Legislators Back to School Program.

Classroom visits by legislators is not a new idea and has been occurring for years. In 2000, however, the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) launched a nationally organized program for schools visits. Originally the program was scheduled for a week in mid-September to coincide with the anniversary of the passage of the Constitution of the Untied States. Age appropriate materials are made available for legislators to use in teaching classes on the Constitution of the United States and our form of government. The legislative visits program is now expanded to cover the whole school year.

For the past several years a resolution has been introduced in the Utah Legislature by the Chair of the Education Committee recognizing Utah’s Back to School Program. Legislators often speak in support of the resolution wanting to share their stories of visits to schools. There has never been one dissenting vote on the resolution. After the resolution is passed, every principal and district superintendent receives a letter from legislative leadership encouraging them to invite legislators into their school classrooms. Data on visits are gathered from each state and sent to NCSL at the end of the school year. In the 2005-2006 school year, 220 schools in Utah were visited and 18,000 students participated in discussions and classes with legislators. These classroom visits are in addition to legislators meeting with school boards, meetings with parent organizations, and individual teachers.

Other tax-supported entities are also desirous of legislative visits. Law enforcement invites legislators to do ride alongs, the judiciary invites us to attend court, the prison invites us to visit, the social service workers want to have us review the case loads with them, the state parks folks want us to visit the parks - and so it is with each government entity. We are, however, a lay legislature. Legislators cannot accept all these important invitations for visits. Everyone does what they can – but every legislator tries to prioritize visits to the schools.

Legislators do not always wait for classroom invitations, and many of them have been involved with the schools before they were elected. To show support and appreciation for the teachers of my children when they were in grade school, I was a classroom volunteer, and went to the school every Tuesday for 12 years. I am so pleased to note the number of volunteers in our classrooms.

Once again, legislators are grateful for dedicated and competent teachers. The Legislator’s Back to School Program is a delightful opportunity for teachers and legislators to spend time together with students.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Digging into the Numbers

Tax cuts, debt reduction, education, transportation....

When we dig into the details of the state's budget priorities, calculator in hand, it’s amazing how fast we reach the point where someone says, “… and then there’s no money left for anything else.”

Here are the numbers.

In fiscal year ’08 the State of Utah will have an additional $1.565 Billion dollars to spend or give back to the taxpayers. $676 Million dollars will be ongoing revenue. $760 Million will be one-time money.

Re: $676 Million Ongoing

Our colleagues in the House have suggested setting aside $227.2 Million of the $676 for education (that is $300.0 Million minus the $72.8 M already slated for education growth in the Base Budget Bill), which brings the total ongoing money available to $442.8 Million. The idea is to take out an additional $300 Million for a tax cut, which leaves $142.8 Million for everything else.

What is "everything else?"

Well, the governor has proposed $70 M ongoing for transportation infrastructure. That is probably a good idea. We also need to give state employees a cost of living increase, which will cost $10.7 Million per percentage point. So, a two percent increase for all state employees will cost $21.4 Million. A three percent raise would cost $32.1 Million. We also need to reserve $18 Million for health insurance and retirement. Committee priorities have yet to join the equation.

Do the ruthless math and watch how fast even an unprecedented surplus is whittled down.

That said, we’re excited to
  • Do some great things for education this year;
  • Provide necessary funding for transportation,
  • Take care of state needs; and
  • Give the extra money back to the taxpayers.
We are going to continue working out the details in a special caucus meeting tomorrow (Saturday). The goal is to flesh out some initial decisions that make sense.

Re: $760 Million One Time Money

Most of us feel like it makes little sense to go deeper into debt this year - in fact, we should be paying off as much debt as possible. If we pay cash instead of bonding for current state projects we need to complete, we’ll need to reserve $400 Million from our one-time pot of gold ($50.0 M to finish the Capitol Renovation, $100 M for roads and $250 M. for Centennial Highway construction).

That would leave the state with $360 Million net one-time money. Paying off existing debt could eat into that to the tune of almost $200 Million ($194,925,000 to be exact). If we want to pay cash for USTAR instead of bonding, that would be another $110 Million.

Again, the Senate Majority will meet for a special planning caucus tomorrow (Saturday) to dig deeper into these numbers and make some tough choices.

We’re excited by the unprecedented opportunity facing our state this year. We're honored by the weight of the consequential decisions before us, and are looking forward to working with our colleagues downstairs on priorities and the ultimate direction of state policy.

Stay tuned.

Engineering Program at Weber

By Greg Bell
State Senator, District 22

I will be presenting Higher Education Engineering Partnership (SB 53) to the Senate Education Committee Monday at 8 a.m. This bill proposes a partnership between Weber State and Utah State Universities that will create an Engineering degree to be taught at the Weber/Davis campus.

Weber has identified a critical need for a bachelor’s degree in engineering because many high tech companies like Boeing, Grumman and TRW have located near Hill Air Force Base and because many Hill engineers are retiring.

Utah State will teach and certify the classes. This partnership would be an outstanding example of an excellent educational partnership adapted to meet the needs of our citizens within existing programs. I welcome you to attend the committee meeting on Monday.

Utah Dialogue

Charlie Luke and Ben McAdams stopped by the Senate Offices yesterday, set up some mics, and had a wide-ranging, off-the-cuff conversation with Senate President John Valentine.

Listen in at Utah Dialogue.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senate Radio: Curt Bramble

Senator Curt Bramble offers a quick review of the week and previews Saturday's planning caucus. Go to Senate Radio to listen (or click here for the MP3).

On Friday we'll post a blog that digs into the budget numbers. Stay tuned.

Three for the Road

  • The Utah Taxpayer posted a good little blog on the proposed Oil and Gas Severance Tax Holding Account,

  • Tom logs the School Board Association’s Day on the Hill, and

  • The Voice of Utah celebrates the joy that is the Senate Cam.

Wanna Protest?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

$$$$ Projections and House Bill One

How much have we already spent on education this year?

When House Bill One passes next week (if it passes) how much will be left over to spend or send back to the taxpayers? Lyle Hillyard, Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations, took a minute out of his schedule today to explain where we are.

Open this spreadsheet in a new window, then click here to listen to the MP3 (or visit the Senate Radio page).

Life is Better at 80 MPH

By Scott Jenkins
Utah State Senator, District 20

I am sponsoring a traffic bill (SB17) that has two primary elements: increasing the speed limit and discouraging careless driving.

I want to raise the speed limit on Utah’s highways to the speed drivers are already traveling. Studies have shown people drive at a level that is comfortable and reasonable and prudent. In Utah, that seems to be about 70 mph along the Wasatch front and 80 mph along rural highways.

I think we also need to enhance the penalty for distracted drivers. I am being very careful not to restrict talking on cell phones or any other activity; this bill simply makes driving the first priority.

Matt did a story for the Trib, you can find it here . Julie's KCPW story is here.

Drive safe!

MLK Day at the Legislature

From the National Conference of State Legislatures' Thicket:

An AP story today, headlined in the New York Times as "Utah Lawmakers Remain King-Holiday Holdouts,"reports as if Utah, the last state to adopt Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, is the only one in which the state legislature is meeting today. In fact there are 11 other state legislatures (Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming) that routinely meet on this holiday. Most of them mark the day with speeches and ceremonies in memory of Dr. King, as they do in Utah.

... The only thing that is unique about Utah is that by state constitution the legislature convenes for the first time on the third Monday in January, the same date as the MLK holiday. There's always lots of pomp and circumstance in the opening day of any legislature. If they use the occasion in Utah to celebrate Dr. King with speeches and ceremonies, aren't they doing just as much to honor his memory?

Durability

Yesterday’s UPD included this little nugget:
Longest serving Utah legislator: Sen. Mike Dmitrich, with continuous service for 38 years, since election to the Utah House in 1968 and to the Senate in 1992. Sen. Lyle Hillyard is the longest-serving state senator (since 1984). He also served two terms in the House.

"Complicated Flow Chart"

We chewed on the budget numbers again in caucus yesterday.

Here’s the Daily Herald:
The Senate President: "We really feel like it's important to have these major decisions made early," he said. "These are big decisions that have to be made, but the senators want to be fully informed."
From the Deseret Morning News:
GOP senators will take the extraordinary step of meeting on a weekend — they'll gather for four hours Saturday at the Little America Hotel (where many out-of-town legislators room during the 45-day general session) to talk further about spending and tax cuts.

"These are big decisions that have to be made, but senators want to be fully informed," Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said while standing in front of a complicated flow chart used during Tuesday's closed-door caucus.
Salt Lake Tribune:
"The numbers speak for themselves," Valentine said, displaying a white-board dissection of the governor's $11 billion recommended budget.

After taking out so-called base budget increases, a proposal to use $400 million in cash rather than bonds for highway funding, the House's $300 million promise to public education and the House's $300 million tax cut, Valentine calculated it would leave less than $150 million for all other state spending, including Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s recommended pay increases for state workers.

"There is nothing left for anything else under this [House] position," Valentine explained, adding that his figures don't factor in mandatory spending caps that will kick in this year.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Greiner Bills

By Jon Greiner
Utah State Senator, District 18

Following in the footsteps of Senators Bell, Hillyard and Walker, I wanted to preview a few of my bills this year.

Public Safety Survivor Benefit (SB 39): This bill is personal for me because a friend and fellow officer, Cecil Gurr, was shot and killed in 2001 while in the line of duty. I felt it disingenuous not to increase the retirement benefit for a surviving spouse of a retired public safety officer from 65 percent to 75 percent, matching other state retirement provisions.

Scrap Metal Transactions (SB 44): This bill defines transactions between the public, and scrap metal dealers. I want to help protect homebuilders and homeowners by addressing the increasing problem of stealing strip metal from construction sites and selling the metal to scrap dealers.

Search and Seizure of Parolees (SB 123): I am sponsoring this bill because I believe ANY law enforcement officer should be able search a current parolee, not just parole officers. This bill piggy-backs the recent Sampson vs. California U. S. Supreme Court decision.

Please take a moment and share your thoughts about these bills, and any advice you may have for me as a new legislator (but spare me all the wisecracks about the Hatch Act. Believe me, I've heard them!). Thanks.

Today's Senate Confirmations

Thomas Patterson just received a unanimous confirmation vote from the Utah Senate today as the new Executive Director of the Department of Corrections.

Robert Yeates was also confirmed unanimously as the new Executive Director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

Listen to the KCPW story here.

Random Synopsis: Day One

Julie Rose tees up the session in "Taking Taking Temperatures on Capitol Hill." The key take-home: this year's big issue is how to deal wisely with the budget money with which we've been entrusted. "Cringeworthy" message bills will take a backseat. John Valentine says, "I trust the process."

Picture by Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press. Deseret Morning News caption: Senate President John Valentine is sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham at the start of the 57th legislative session Monday at the state Capitol complex in Salt Lake City.

Rep. Craig Frank stopped in the icy pre-dawn (and, we assume, mashed down on his parking brake), on Apricot Street to take a picture of the Dome. Check it out.

Chris Vanocur on abc4.com:
Sen. Lyle Hillyard said, "I think there's some frustration up here that we've funded public education but it doesn't seem to get us the results we want."
Tiffany Erickson re: Senator Stephenson’s push to increase teacher salaries in Utah from among the lowest in the nation to above the national average
"I think it is something that can be achieved over the next four years and would ensure that we have the quality of teachers in classrooms that children deserve, and be able to retain the teachers that we currently have," Stephenson said.
"Vague but not looney" This might be the closest thing to a compliment we'll ever get out of Voice of Utah re: Senator Chris Buttars. BTW - his intention is that Private Investigators can have 20 days total, not per case.

The Chief Justice asked for increased judicial salaries. The Deseret Morning News:
[John] Valentine, who is an attorney, said he recalls judges 30 years ago. "These judges had been at the peak of their careers," he said, adding most had made their fortunes and wanted to give back to the community. "They were the best and the brightest," said Valentine. Now, many judges have but 10 years legal experience under their belt, and that troubles him.
The Salt Lake Tribune:
Senator Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, a member of the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, agrees the enormous amount of money available in private practice has diverted some of the state's best minds away from the bench. "She's spot on," Bell said of Durham's address. "We have seen a real decrease in applicants."
In the blog world, we’ve had good ongoing public participation here, here, here and here. Love to have you join in.

And finally, in case you missed this in the Daily Herald:
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, told his colleagues that they should strive to be "the great anchors of state policy."

"Take the long view," he said. "Make careful decisions based on the facts and the merits of the issue, not short-term political expediency."

Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, quoted Abraham Lincoln's assertion that "shades of opinion may be sincerely entertained by honest and truthful men."

Lawmakers should keep that in mind during the session, he said.

"There's been a lot of speculation that this is going to be contentious.

"If you attribute to your political opponent that same passion, that same conviction, that same commitment to their values that they hold that you yourself hold to your own," Bramble said, "... it makes it quite easy to focus simply on the merits of that particular argument, and when that argument is done to put your arm around your opponent and go get something to drink.

"You know -- a root beer."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Honoring Dr. King

Dr. Forrest Crawford, of Weber State University, will address the Senate at 11:30 a.m.

Come visit us in person or watch on-line.

[Update:] Good speech. At one point, Dr. Crawford quoted Langston Hughes:
Let America be the dream that dreamers dream.
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
O let my land
Be a land where Liberty is crowned
With no false patriotic wreath, but
Opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

The 57th Legislature has begun

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Get Ready

Senate schedule for week one of the Legislative Session. You can get official calendars here each week (or find them charmingly placed in the Senate lobby).

The on-line calendar has links to agendas, audio, and tons of helpful information.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Walker Bills

By Carlene Walker
Utah State Senator, District 8

For any who may be interested, here is a preview of a few of my bills this year.

Resolution Urging Congress to Address SSN ID Theft (SCR 1): This resolution asks Congress to give support to employers to screen employees for false Social Security numbers and establish ways for citizens to better protect themselves from ID Theft, especially through government sources. I will companion this resolution with three bills (two are listed below. The other one has not been numbered, but will address the growing problem of medical identity fraud).

Workforce Services-Reporting Misuse of Personal Identifying Information (SB 15): This bill will allow the Department of Workforce Services to inform people when their Social Security Numbers have been stolen and report the fraud to the proper authorities.

Revising Death Certificates (SB89): This bill will remove Social Security numbers from death certificates.

Creation of New School District Amendments (SB 30): This amendment gives cities tools to create new, smaller school districts and puts meat on the bones of last year's bill by Rep. Dave Cox.

Forms of Municipal Government (SB 41): This bill repeals a provision that allows cities to change forms of government to a city manager form without public hearings and voter approval. This will address the undemocratic neutralizing of mayors in Lehi, Syracuse and Bluffdale.

As always, I would appreciate any and all responses.

Vouchers


Read Jennifer’s article and be prepared as this issue takes center stage.

From the article:

Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is preparing a voucher bill with input from other House and Senate leaders. He believes this is the year it will pass.

"I think the dialogue has been evolving," Urquhart said Wednesday. "It's much easier to rally around the status quo than it is to change.

"I think our constituents are realizing this could really help some families and some individuals and that a lot of the rhetoric about harm it might do to public education is overblown."

Federalism Setback

Stateline.org: Governors lose in power struggle over National Guard
A little-noticed change in federal law packs an important change in who is in charge the next time a state is devastated by a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina.

To the dismay of the nation’s governors, the White House now will be empowered to go over a governor’s head and call up National Guard troops to aid a state in time of natural disasters or other public emergencies. Up to now, governors were the sole commanders in chief of citizen soldiers in local Guard units during emergencies within the state.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Free Exercise of Religious Expression without Government Interference

By Chris Buttars
Utah State Senator, District 10

Little by little, over the last 200 years or so, a cloak has been pulled over the First Amendment, masking it’s guarantee that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

I think it is time to pull back that shroud and carefully re-assert the vision established by our founders. As Lisa wrote in today’s Deseret Morning News, I am introducing legislation which will take a small step toward restoring the unalienable rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

This bill puts Government out of the business of prohibiting religious expression. The only situation in which the government will be allowed to ban religious expression will be to further a compelling government interest using the least restrictive means possible. You can read the 2-page text here:
The Free Exercise of Religious Expression without Government Interference
This is, essentially, a mini-Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), carefully crafted with the Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in mind. Similar acts have passed in 13 states. It's a good bill. I have confidence it will pass the legislature and be upheld by any court in America.

Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate your thoughtful input.

Democrats elect a Republican Speaker

Interesting news from our friends in Pennsylvania. Here is the story on Stateline.org.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My new friends at the hospital

By Curt Bramble
Utah State Senator, District 16

Many of you now know that I was hospitalized Monday for blood clots in my leg and chest.

Thank you for all your prayers and kind wishes on behalf of my family and I. We are grateful for your friendship. We are also very grateful and impressed by the quality care shown to us by Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and our team of health care professionals.

I expect to be up and running again in the next day or two, but the doctors say I'll need to be cautious for a few weeks. My wife has instructed me that I will be taking their advice seriously. We’ve been blessed in the fact that the long-term prognosis couldn’t be better. All the tests they've run indicate that I will be running full speed soon and there will be no permanent or residual effects.

I plan to be with my colleagues at the State Capitol when the session starts on Monday, but may take a more laid-back approach than usual.

Rising from the Ashes: Utah's Fourth District

Robert Gehrke and Suzanne Struglinski report on the latest incarnation of the bill that would give Utah her fourth congressional seat.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sardine Canyon

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25

It never ceases to amaze me to see how crazy some people are when they drive through Sardine Canyon in a snow storm. I was raised in Cache Valley so I grew accustomed to driving in the snow and on snow and ice packed roads. The secret is to slow down and realize that brakes will not stop you as quickly as they will when the roads are dry. Braking by gearing down is better than slamming on the brakes. Four-wheel drive is great but does not give you the license to drive 70 mph when 40 is a more appropriate speed.

If you want an experience that is hard to forget, the next time you hear that it is snowing in Sardine, give it a spin (no pun intended). Accept the fact that the 5 minutes you lose by slowing down to a reasonable speed will quickly be gained when you are off in the barrow pit waiting for the wrecker to come. When you reach Wellsville (or Brigham depending on the direction you chose to make this trip), just relax and watch your white knuckles turn back to their regular color. That should take less than 10 minutes but sometimes, like last Thursday, it took about 30.

More News from the North

HJNews.com covered the League of Women Voters' meeting with Cache County legislators.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

What My Constituents Want - Part Two

By Greg Bell
Utah State Senator, District 22

Here's what I'm hearing from the good people in Davis County: Public Education and Transportation are THE issues this year. I'll talk about Public Education first.

People in my district seem to understand . . .
  • Utah has more children per household (3.2 vs. 2.3) than the rest of the nation.
  • Utah’s income per job tends to be less than the national average (about 80%).
  • Utah therefore has to be very efficient and innovative with scarce tax dollars.
  • The economic downturn i n 2001-03 legitimately limited Utah's ability to increase educational funding.
HOWEVER, they also believe that . . .
  • Since the end of the recession, Utah has not adequately funded public education.
  • Class sizes have become a serious problem: 25 students in K-3, and 35 to 40 students in High School math and English are NOT acceptable.
  • Teacher salaries beginning at $12/hr. and topping out around $40K are unacceptable.
  • Increased teacher compensation must be linked to performance-based incentives for quality teaching.
  • Students must have adequate classroom resources: textbooks, access to computers, paper, supplies.
  • Tax cuts at the expense of public ed are NOT desireable.
  • Current record surpluses should be devoted to major educational funding increases.
In exchange, my constituents are demanding that public education . . .
  • Account for monies spent, particularly in administrative costs;
  • Account for individual student progress and school-wide academic achievement;
  • Account for the high cost of new buildings;
  • Eliminate poor, underperforming teachers from the system;
  • Require high school graduates to have basic competency in core subjects; and
  • Allow parents to have a real say in policy decisions.
The bottom line that I am hearing from citizens in my district is that we should use the budget surplus wisely to make a significant and continuing investment in quality public education.

Trucker Headlines

Land Line Magazine (the Business Magazine for Professional Truckers):
Group Calls for Higher Tolls on Busy Utah Roads

Friday, January 05, 2007

Teacher’s Salaries

SLCSpin: The Big Con

Love to have your thoughtful comments.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

This Year's Crop (of Bills)

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25

It's tough to pick which bills to sponsor.

Some appear troublesome, but then pass with no problem. Others appear simple but result in uproar. With that in mind, I wanted to outline some of my bills for the 2007 Legislative session. I would appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

Repeal of Prisoner Demands for Disposition

The Statewide Association of Prosecutors asked me to run a bill to repeal what has been called the Speedy Trial Act. This has been used to cause courts to dismiss charges for inmates whose trials have not been heard within a short time while in prison. There are better ways to protect constitutional rights without this very unique law. I am sure most citizens will support the repeal.

Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult Amendments (SB7)

The Utah Commission on Aging asked me to sponsor a bill to complete what was started several years ago to protect elderly people from being exploited. This bill would allow courts to assess attorney fees and costs against someone who unfairly takes advantage of an elderly person.

Extended Day Kindergarten

I will be carrying a bill for Governor Jon Huntsman to authorize extended day kindergarten for those children who want and need the program. It will be optional with the local district. This will be a small investment which should reap great benefits with our most vulnerable citizens.

Use of Oil and Gas Revenue (SB18)
and
Resolution Regarding Permanent State Trust Fund (SJR 2)

I have seen a lot of good publicity on this idea. I believe the state should invest the current severance tax windfall into a permanent fund so we have something to show after these non-renewable resources are used up. It is bad public policy just to use an income stream that grows and shrinks on programs that are not so variable.

We desperately need a reliable flow of money for infrastructure investments. The income from this trust fund would help generate that stability. To build programs on volatile income streams leaves us at the mercy of whatever next year’s taxes will generate.

This investment will make us think about the future beyond just the next election cycle.

Once again, I'd love to have the benefit of our readers' input.

Jeff Alexander's Replacement

This comes by way of the House Majority Site:
"The Utah Republican Party Chairwoman, Enid Greene, chose the replacement for retired House member Jeff Alexander this afternoon. Chris Herrod was named as the new legislator to represent House District 62...."

[Update:] Craig Frank gives a brief report in Under the Dome.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Constituents Want - Part One

By Greg Bell
Utah State Senator, District 22

Every elected official is asked whether he will "represent his constituents" or pursue his own agenda.

Most legislative issues are very complex; the public cannot, nor do they want to, consume the voluminous information, pro and con, relevant to an issue, nor can they hear the many stakeholders who have conflicting views on a piece of legislation. Public opinion doesn't respond to fast-moving changes in bills and budgets, or to the changes and compromises inherent in the legislative process.

It’s also very difficult for an elected official to determine what her constituents want. I can’t do Gallup polls. Legislators see some polling data in the major media; but these tend to be statewide information. One rarely finds information specific to Centerville or Kaysville, for example.

Moreover, the electorate doesn’t speak with one distinct voice. A Utah Senate district contains nearly 100,000 people: soccer moms, businesspeople, educators, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, constitutionalists, members of the Sierra Club, students, actors, laborers, retired people, entrepreneurs, union members, military, rich, poor, Catholic, LDS, Evangelical, religiously unaffiliated, educators, public employees, hunters and fishermen, animal rights advocates, life-long residents, and brand-new Utahns. There are numerous opinions among that group of 100,000.

Assuming we were able to get the public’s opinion on every issue, how much guidance should a legislator take from a 60%/40% split? How much from 29% "Strongly favor" and 19% "Somewhat Favor", etc. There are many issues where even members of the same party cannot agree.

The time-honored way to hear from one’s constituents is through an election campaign. To a victorious candidate who emerges from a political campaign (through a party convention to a primary election to a general election), discussing political issues with the electorate is about the best of all gauges of the will and desire of the people.

So how should a legislator represent her constituents’ interests? My answer to this question is:
1) Listen carefully,

2) Apply the public policy principles I believe my constituents hold dear, and

3) Identify and act on my constituents’ priorities -- consistent with my conscience

Clearly, knowing the will of one’s constituency is pretty subjective business. In the 2006 General Session I heard more than once,
"My constituents want a tax cut", versus, "My constituents don’t want a tax cut, they want more funding for public education."

OR

"My constituents are demanding ethics reform", versus "No constituent has ever mentioned a concern about legislators receiving gifts."
I think I might hear the same kind of thing in 2007.

Amidst the hundreds of issues out there, here's what I am hearing from the good people in Davis County: Public Education and Transportation are THE issues.

I'll try to write a little bit about what my constituents seem to want on both of those issues in the next few days.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year

Edith Lovejoy Pierce:
We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called "Opportunity" and its first chapter is New Year's Day.
Benjamin Franklin:
Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.
T. S. Eliot:
. . . to make an end is to make a beginning.

Happy 2007.

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