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Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year :: New Capitol

The historic Utah State Capitol Building, newly restored, and renovated, with a fresh coat of earthquake repellent will be dedicated on Friday, January 4th.

This Friday.

Mere hours from right now.

January 3, 2008

On January 3, we will host morning shows live at the Capitol. There will be between 7 and 9 live cutaways beginning at 5:45 AM, ranging from 2-4 minutes. The news media is invited into specific areas of the restored Capitol. Key players in the restoration of the Capitol, such as David Hart, members of the Board, and the architects and contractors will be available for interviews. Please contact Allyson Gamble to schedule interviews. Later that morning we will have live radio coverage and additional television coverage. We will also have tours available for print media. We'll also hold a dress rehearsal for the dedication program and conduct volunteer training.

January 4, 2008 (Statehood Day)
RE DEDICATION OF THE UTAH STATE CAPITOL
2:00 PM - 5:30 PM

The re-dedication ceremony begins at 2:00 p.m., mirroring the original 1916 dedication. Following historical precedent, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform several numbers, including an original composition by local artist Kurt Bestor, with lyrics written by Utah’s Poet Laureate, Katharine Cowles, Ph.D. You need tickets to attend in person, but the video will be broadcast.

Ceremonial Bell Ringing at 2:05 PM

We invite all citizens of the state, particularly students, to take part in this once in a lifetime event by ringing bells at approximately 2:05 p.m., the time at which Utah’s First Lady, Mary Kaye Huntsman will be ringing a ceremonial bell as part of the re-dedication ceremonies.

Fireworks at 5:15 PM

At 5:00 p.m. everyone will be invited to the steps and south grounds of the Capitol for the Call to the People – Back to the People’s House to enjoy a 15 minute firework celebration beginning at 5:15 p.m., with musical accompaniment by the Utah National Guard.

Open House, January 5th to the 12th

An Open House will begin on January 5th and run from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00PM daily for a week. Each day will focus upon a unique aspect of the restoration project, culminating in Capitol Discovery Day on January 12th. The Capitol’s volunteer Visitor Services team will be available to provide assistance and explanation throughout the building. During Capitol tours this week you will be able to listen to musical performances by elementary, high-school, and community choirs from throughout the state, who will perform inside the Rotunda.

Noon Lecture Series

There will also be plenty to learn from major participants in the project during our Lunch Lecture Series that will take place every day from the 5th through the 11th, at noon. Lectures will be approximately 40 minutes in length with 20 minutes for Q & A at the end.
Saturday, January 5
Topic: Rotunda, Chandelier, Cyclorama, Murals, Niche Sculptures, and Pendentives
Presenters: Carmen Bria, Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Art, and Daub Firmin Hendrickson Sculpture Group

Sunday, January 6th
Topic: State Reception Room & Governor’s Suite
Presenters: Robert Pett, Senior Design Architect, Capitol Restoration Group and, David Hart, Architect of the Capitol

Monday, January 7th
Topic: Base Isolation
Presenters: Jerod Johnson, Senior Engineer, Reaveley Engineers, and David Marshall, General Superintendent, Jacobsen/Hunt Joint Venture

Tuesday, January 8th
Topic: The Uta
h State Senate
Presenters: Charles Shepherd, Capitol Restoration Group, and Keith Bond, Senate Mural Artist

Wednesday, January 9th
Topic: House of Reps
Presenters: Breanna Brown, Capitol Restoration Group, and David Koch, Mural Artist

Thursday, January 10th
Topic: Supreme Court
Presenters: Karen Ferguson, Capitol Restoration Group, and Stephen Kempe, Jacobsen/Hunt

Friday, January 11th
Topic: Capitol Art
Presenter: Judith McConkie Ph.D. Curator of the Capitol

CAPITOL DISCOVERY DAY: Saturday, January 12th
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

With a focus on children and families, Capitol Discovery Day will provide an opportunity for individuals and families to become more familiar with the beautifully restored Capitol building, it’s grounds, and the restoration project that has brought it back to it’s original splendor.


Happy New Year!

Parking and Transportation

Due to anticipated crowds and limited parking on Capitol Hill, bus service to and from the Capitol from the parking lot directly east of the Triad Center (former Olympic Medals Plaza) will be available weekdays 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM. After 5:00 PM parking on Capitol Hill should be more readily available.

Limited parking is available in the Capitol Visitor's Parking lot located on the east end of the Capitol and State Office Building. To get to the parking lot, turn east on 300 North and follow the street which becomes East Capitol Blvd. Take a left into the parking lot. Parking is also allowed around the perimeter of the Capitol.

Enter your new state capitol through the East doors.

Note: This blog post was taken from the lengthiest, most epic, Tolstoyesque press release we have ever witnessed, courtesy of Allyson Gamble at the CPB. This isn't even half of it. We'll post more later.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year

A new year means new laws kick in. Here's a nationwide perspective from Stateline.org.

One of the best is the tax system overhaul the Legislature and Governor's Office worked out over the past several decades. Was it only seven years? It felt like an ice age. The new system takes effect on January 1st. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Teacher Salary

Over 80 teachers from around the state have reported back on their salary increase. Thank you for the E-mail; it was wonderful to hear from all of you.

Some said thanks (you're welcome!). Some didn't realize their salary increase would be taxable (sorry). Others shared credible observations that they are receiving less than the amount we directed. We're looking into it.

Here is the KCPW Radio report, by Julie Rose.

For those who came in late . . . there was a glitch in the teacher count last year so we funded a lower number of teachers. House and Senate Leadership made public commitments to fully fund the raise for every teacher. We did that by putting an additional $40 million in the Base Budget. Executive Appropriations approved the Base Budget Bill 10 days ago.

There is really no reason, at this point, for any district to withhold the money we allocated to teachers.

Not only did we make good on the undercount, but we're making the $2500 raise permanent, and plan to to offer another salary increase in a few months.

Have a good Christmas, teachers. And thank you.

Snowy Afternoon















Snowy Morning



Snow didn't stop work on the Capitol.

This picture was taken from the new Senate Caucus Room in the Capitol.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Conservative marries progressive

So, last year we passed some serious tax reform, set to take effect in 12 days. Some said it would result in a more regressive system.

Turns out, it didn't.

Here's Dan Harrie in the Trib:
Utah's new 5 percent "flat tax" income tax kicks in Jan. 1 and, if politicians' promises prove true, it will be cheaper and simpler for most residents.

But a new University of Utah study also says that - contrary to conventional wisdom - it also will be somewhat more progressive than the old sliding-scale bracketed income tax.

For those who like their sources raw, here's the CPPA Study.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Good Start

The House of Representatives' Majority Caucus met today to work on budget and tax policy for the 2008 Session. The Senate held similar meetings last week.

The upshot is that we are moving into the '08 Session with substantial consensus:
1. A salary increase for Utah's teachers. (See Rep. Frank's post on the mechanics.)

2. Reform and reduce property taxes.
The two chambers and Governor's office don't see eye to eye on everything yet -- you wouldn't want us to -- but it appears we have some early agreement on the general direction.

[Update:] Representative Urquhart's post.

Jessica's Law Proposal

We held a press conference today to introduce Rep. Wimmer's bill to bring the Jessica Lunsford Act to Utah.

Listen in on Senate Radio.

Friends of Mafi

So we left the office for less than an hour this afternoon. When we returned we found 48 messages on the voice mail.

And the phone keeps ringing.

All in support of Denise Mafi. Courtesy of Crosstalk America.

(I'm trying to think of a punchy ending sentence, but the phone keeps ringing.)

Jessica's Law

Press conference today on a Jessica's Law proposal for Utah. 12:00 p.m. in the foyer of the West Building, Utah State Capitol Campus.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

GRAMA visits the USOE

"I've never done a GRAMA request before because, traditionally, legislators do not have much of a challenge getting information from agencies administering taxpayer funds."

- Senator Margaret Dayton

On today's Daily Herald's Opinion Page:
Buffalo Chip to the Utah State Office of Education for denying a request by state Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, for a copy of a grant application by Brigham Young University. State officials argued that the application could give competitors an unfair look at the research. Oh, please. The school won the $500,000 federal grant, administered through the state office, to study the controversial "Math Investigations" program at public schools. So the process involved federal, state and local government in a matter of wide public concern. If researchers are truly worried about exposure of their applications, here's a simple answer: Don't take the people's money to study public issues. The State Records Committee voted unanimously to give the documents to Dayton, but the Office of Education is mulling a court appeal. We're setting a pile of Buffalo Chips aside just in case.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More $$ for Teachers

The only question is how.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Slow News Month

The Trib reported the first big rift between the Guv's office and lawmakers.

We're not feeling it.

Nonetheless, Rod Decker invited Curt Bramble to discuss the alleged drama on Take Two.

9:45 a.m. on Sunday morning.

[Update:] Take Two airs at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, not 9:45 a.m.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2 New Lawmakers

Senator Karen Mayne will replace Eddie Mayne and Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck will replace Ralph Becker.

Congrats to the new lawmakers. We're looking forward to some good work together.

Here's the Trib.

Base Budget Articles

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And the Session Begins . . .

Today the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee approved a the Base Budget Bill. (What's a Base Budget Bill? How did that get started?)

Essentially, we approved a starting point plus a few very high priority items.

The committee . . .
* Approved last year's funding levels for next year's budget.

* Immediately put 25 percent of the one-time surplus (about $60 Million) into savings. That's $16.2 million for the General Rainy Day Fund and $44.2 million for the Education Rainy Day fund. This move brings the Rainy Day account up to $393.4 million - more than we had going into the economic downturn in 2002.

* Increased education funding by $34 million (in addition to last year's increase) to pay for the growth in Utah's student population (12,880 new students, to be exact).

* Made good on our promise of a $2500 raise for teachers to the tune of about $40 million. Retroactive. (This was unintentionally under-funded due to a counting error beyond legislative control).

* Added $2.4 million for the one-time teacher bonus. If you are a teacher and you are not getting your $1000 bonus, or the $2500 raise, please contact us.
As a point of reference, the governor's budget recommended $40 million for the Rainy Day funds, $34 million for enrollment growth, $20 million for the teacher raise, and nothing for the one-time teacher bonus (they assume PED funds FY 08 within existing budget).
We also increased Medicaid funding by $13.9 million to account for the fact that costs have increased, more people are using the program and the federal reimbursement has decreased.

$9.8 million is now slated for preventive maintenance on state buildings.

$2.5 million will go to reseed areas damaged by wildfires with native grasses.

So . . . it's a start.

If you've read this far, you'll probably also be interested in the following . . . .

A degree in math from the University of Utah.

Just kidding.

The Majority Leadership Team gathered Monday night, and the Senate Majority Caucus met the following morning – just two of dozens of meetings to come – to wrap ourselves around the numbers and start the long work of creating the next state budget.

A few highlights . . .
1) We discussed and approved the base budget proposal and the high-priority additions mentioned above.

2) In almost all instances we want to avoid new debt for buildings. We'll pay cash this year. Some transportation bonds, however, will still be issued on last year's authorization, which also includes the ongoing funding source to pay for them. If you want to know why that's a good idea, just call.

3) We are looking at paying off current debt.

4) We are looking at smart ways to provide property tax relief.
And, of course . . .
5) We are looking very carefully at teachers' salaries. How much of a raise can we offer this year? Do we do it as a straight WPU? The risk there, of course, is in the possibility that we allocate, say, a 7 percent raise but the districts only pass 3 percent on to the teachers and the legislature, inevitably, gets the blame. (That's not exactly a hypothetical, BTW.)
Stay tuned.

Giving Senator Hickman a fair shake.

Some do.

Some don't.

Thanks Tom.

PDL Saving Money

This was out last month but we forgot to brag about it:

Preferred Drug List Already Saving State $$

Monday, December 10, 2007

News from Upstairs

A shift in senate minority leadership:
"The Utah Senate Democrat caucus met today and made changes in the leadership team (necessitated by the recent passing of Senator Ed Mayne). Senator Pat Jones was made Assistant Senate Minority Whip (replacing Senator Ed Mayne) and Senator Brent Goodfellow was elected Senate Minority Caucus Manager (replacing Senator Pat Jones)."

Governor's Budget Request

Governor Huntsman unveiled his budget request today. Here is the official overview. More of the details here.

And the early reports:
KSL
SLTrib
Deseret Morning News

'Tis the Season

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations

The Governor and Legislative Fiscal Analyst have announced the new revenue estimates, so we can begin to address various requests of legislators and public agencies for funding in the upcoming session. One must remember that they are estimating (guessing) where the economy will be 6 to 18 months from now.

This year's prediction is a very large increase, until you compare it with the past two years. Then it pales a little by comparison.

In preparing a state budget we do have to distinguish between on-going and one-time moneys, general funds (sales tax revenues) which can be used for anything, and education funds (income tax) which can only be used for education. We also need to pay attention to the spending cap and what we have committed to supplement last year’s budget.

There has been a lot of discussion about equalizing money for capital construction. If that is successful, each school district will have the same amount per student to build new schools. Tht way the students in a low property tax value district will not be deprived of the educational opportunities received by those in a richer district. One proposal was to take the property tax from the “richer” districts and give it to the “poorer” districts which would really impact Salt Lake City, Park City and most of the rural districts with a power plant in their boundaries. The districts losing money would be forced to raise their property taxes to make up for the lost revenue or cut programs or forfeit on bond payments. Another proposal meets these needs by the surplus income tax revenue much like we do to fund the WPU for the school operation budgets. The experts tell us that this would need to be $300.0 M ongoing money to really make an impact. This becomes even more important when we see tremendous growth in the Jorden School District and the impact of the split there, and what is left on the West side for a property tax base to fund their need for new facilities.

If we address teacher salaries by increasing the WPU, it will cost us $25.5 M for each percent increase. If we add salary increases for areas of special need such as Math, Science and Special Ed teachers, that could cost another $10.0 M. What about going to a true merit system whereby the truly outstanding teachers regardless of discipline received a bonus for the outstanding progress their students make while in their care? What about ELL or a new reading initiative?
It doesn’t take much effort to run out of money. I could easily take whatever department you care most about and find worthy line items so fast even unprecedented income disappears. For me personally, I believe that we owe it to our state employees (and not just the teachers) to do our best to address their low compensation. We cannot update the freeway from Point of the Mountain to Springville or even think of the Mountain View Corridor without using a lot more of the General Funds money than we have in the past unless we are willing to forgoe other road projects and take over 15 years to pay for the I-15 improvement through Utah County. Don't suggest we raise taxes. That won’t happen.

Stay tuned. I hope that by exploring the problems and process in a public manner we can focus on the real meat and potatoes of legislative work. We're going to make some tough choices. Ignoring challenges or rejecting every proposed change will only increase the pain when we finally agree that changes must occur.

I should add that our financial experts warn that the future of our current economy is very difficult to predict. The revenue estimates may change in February so we should be careful how we commit to spending. In the past we've increased spending in certain areas, only to hear it labeled as a "cut" when we had to scale back the increase a little due to new revenue estimates. I don't think that is accurate or fair.

Distant Early Warning

Pamela M. Prah wrote this for Stateline.org:
"A slumping housing market and skimpier sales tax collections will force as many as 20 states to go back and patch holes in their budgets in 2008...."
Utah won't need to go through that this year.

Thankfully.

Keep a weather eye out for next year.

Utah, like most states, maintains a balanced budget. The article goes on to say, "If tax revenues come in less than what a state had projected, then a state either has to cut programs or find other sources of revenue."

Sustainability. Inevitable fluctuations of the economy. Little things that keep us up at night, even as we ride a wave of unprecedented prosperity.

More state stats here: The Fiscal Survey of States

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Loch Ness


E-mail from Lyle Hillyard: During our recent trip to Scotland, we went to the famous Loch Ness to see the Loch Ness Monster. I tried everything but could not get him (or her) to come up where we could see her (or him) so I asked Holly to take a picture so I could prove that there is no such thing as a Loch Ness Monster. I hope that this picture now puts your mind to rest.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Becoming a Town

By Dennis Stowell
Utah State Senator, District 28

Clearly we need to amend last year's HB 466, in a way that empowers citizens as the gatekeepers.

The proposal for a new Town Incorporation Process (for populations of 100 to 1000 people) mirrors the incorporation steps for cities with populations greater than 1000 which is currently on the books.

The proposed new process:
* Landowners file a petition with the County Clerk.

* The County Commission decides if a feasibility study should be required. If not, the incorporation proposal would go straight to a public hearing.

* If the feasibility study shows that revenues exceed expenditures by more than 10%, (5% for a city incorporation) then the County Commission could negotiate conditions to make the proposal work for the county. This should prevent cherry picking of high revenue areas.

* The proposal would then go to a public hearing.

* Following the public hearing an election would be held to decide if the area should be incorporated. If it does not pass, the proposal dies.

* If it passes, a second election would be held to elect town officers.

* The new mayor may then file articles of incorporation with the Lt. Governor's Office.
Here's a flow chart (draft).

I would appreciate comments on this proposal, especially from citizens who have lately been introduced to the unintended consequences of HB 466. How would this new process work for your community?

The Nutcracker in Cache Valley

By Lyle Hillyard
Senator, District 25

My family and I have always enjoyed going to the Nutcracker right after Thanksgiving to welcome the Christmas season. This year, the local group that performs the Nutcracker celebrated their 25th year of performing. The Ellen Eccles Theater is always sold out for these performances. This year, there were two new additions. First, they now have a live orchestra to play the Nutcracker classics. Secondly, a local youth chorus called the Cache Youth Choir sang during the little kids’ snowflake dance. Some of the younger dancers, over the years, have moved on to professional careers in dancing and often return to dance leads in this production. It is well worth the time to come to Logan and see this event. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Lucid

Navajo Trust Fund Extension?

We want to resign our role in the Navajo Trust Fund and have Congress create a new disbursement system for the royalties.

Some on the Navajo Nation side now want us to extend that role for two more years.

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