Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963.
. . . When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Tax Foundation released a special report about the State-Local Tax burdens facing Americans (Hat tip to Senator Greg Bell for bringing this to our attention). The report ranks all 50 states (51, in some sections, to include Washington DC) according to their "tax burden". Basically, for each state, they calculate the total amount paid by the residents in taxes, and divide those taxes by the total income in each state to compute this "tax burden" measure (in other words, the amount taxpayers are paying).
Some key points about Utah:
The National Average for State-Local Tax Burdens (FY2008) is 9.7% of individual income. Utah is paying 9.6% - Which puts us at the 22nd highest.
Utah had one of the largest drops in taxpayers' burden in the country (dropping 0.5 percentage points between 2007 and 2008), mostly due to income growth outpacing tax growth while the economy, as a whole, slowed.
In 2000, Utah was ranked the 8th highest in taxpayer's burden. As mentioned before, we are now 22nd, which is one of the biggest drops in the nation.
To read more into this in-depth study, click here.
I appreciate the forum to state my opinion on a matter that is weighing on me. I also want to clarify that this is my opinion and not that of Legislative Leaders or the Legislature although if asked, the list of those wishing to sign on the bottom may be rather lengthy.
If you are reading this blog, you probably already know that over the past week or so Rep. Steve Urquhart has been publicly criticizing Bob Bernick and the Deseret News for a story Bernick wrote about Utah’s referendum law.
Simply put, Bernick claimed that “legislative leaders” intended to take on the law. The only problem with this claim was that it was not true. It was not merely a prevarication; it was not run-of-the-mill media bias; it was not even an inaccuracy.
It was a lie.
Newspapers have a profound influence on the public. They consider themselves having a long, proud and historic tradition in this country of educating the public about our government. This tradition has blessed us with a culture of knowledge, which in turn drives public opinion and – often – public policy.
So when reporters lie, the system gets polluted.
Yet another way to pollute the system is to confuse a reporter for a columnist. When I wake-up in the morning and read the Salt Lake Tribune, I know there’s a decent chance that Paul Rolly or Rebecca Walsh may have a column that blasts legislators (generally Republicans – just my keen observation) and, on occasion, me in particular. I accept that and consider it okay, because it is a columnist’s job – and those in power will always receive a large share of the criticism. Hello reality.
On the other hand, when I open up the Deseret News, I don’t know whether the Bob Bernick piece is opinion or news. Is it a political column or is it an “objective” report of the facts? The problem is not just that I can’t tell the difference, but rather that the Deseret News allows its most prominent political reporter to so cavalierly surf back and forth between each vastly different role.
The Deseret News allows Bernick to run story after story about Legislative ethics and open government. Yet, it allows this individual of great persuasion to ride the line of journalistic ethics day after day. This paper has several responsible, ethical and objective reporters who suffer the effects of this bad decision.
I realize that I am calling out Mr. Bernick - an individual with the ability to roll out the ink in large measure and I fully expect some sort of retaliation. Having said that, I sincerely hope the Deseret News deals with the growing Bernick problem. And I think there is more to this problem than the referendum lie of 8/19, or Bernick’ s compounded lie of 8/20, or the follow-up to the lie written by John Florez on 8/25.
You just never know. Left in disrepair, this problem could eventually lead to a groundswell of civic opposition. Imagine thousands of Utahns joining an initiative process to ban themselves from reading the Deseret News.
At that point, perhaps even Bob Bernick would finally admit to the public that legislative leaders have no plans to undo the citizens’ process.
This isn't personal. When facts spill out that give citizens a misleading impression of our work on their behalf I believe we have a right - maybe a responsibility - to offer further perspective. In actuality, we let it slide most of the time but the current situation seems to be moving beyond the accidental slip-up by an otherwise professional, hard-working reporter.
That said, here are some quick observations on Bob Bernick Jr.'s latest column, published in the Deseret Morning News.
Bob Bernick, Jr. said
"The Office of Legislative Auditor General's budget grew by an astounding 80 percent over the past seven years,"
and that the Auditors . . .
"last year turned out 22 audits compared to 17 several years ago."
The 80 percent growth figure spans seven years, but the increase in audits from 17 to 22 (29%) only spans three years. Over the past seven years, the number of audits per year has gone from 11 to 22. Using a seven year span for both(which I believe is intuitive), the comparison should be: Budget Increase = 80%, Productivity Increase = 100%. I believe the people of Utah have been well served by this organization.
The Deseret Morning News also printed
"The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel's budget grew by nearly 62 percent"
and that LRGC. . .
"hired five new employees over the past few years to deal with a greater workload."
That part is accurate. The workload has increased - particularly in areas like Information Technology and big-issue task forces. Two of the five new hires were IT staffers. Compare the web access and services we provide citizens to other state legislatures and I think you'll realize that this was money invested well.
As the state grows and becomes more complex we are seeing more big-issue task forces and more intensity in the legislature. Bigger issues require more analytical and legal staff.
A significant part (just under $400K) of the increase is due to the mobile communications program for the entire legislature housed in their office. My staff tells me that Mr. Bernick was informed of this, but it didn't turn up in his story.
Bob Bernick further reports . . .
"The other main legislative office - the Fiscal Analyst, which drafts the state's budget - grew by 49 percent over that time frame - the same growth as the executive branch's main tax funds."
The "executive branch's main tax funds", as the reporter puts it, are the General Fund and Education Fund. Notwithstanding significant tax cuts, those funds grew by about 49% from FY 2002 to FY 2009 - 50.1% to be exact. But comparing that to the Fiscal Analyst's budget is a little like comparing apples and oranges. A correct statement would be: Total General/Education Fund appropriations growth = 50.1%; Fiscal Analyst General/Education Fund appropriations growth = 37.5%.
Finally, Mr. Bernick says
"Over four years, the average state executive branch worker has seen a pay raise of 17.5 percent." He then says "With those numbers in mind, here are a few examples of some of the larger, or just odd, pay raises and pay scales in the Utah Legislature."
"Average" includes BOTH highs and lows and should not be compared to a handful of the higher-performing or "larger" outliers. For every person that earned a big increase, someone else retired or moved-on and was replaced by an individual with less experience and therefore lower pay.
An accurate comparison would be: Executive Branch compensation increases over seven years = 43%; Legislative Branch compensation increases over seven years = 44%.
Excellent staff is worth the investment. I can't count the number of times we have asked staff to provide hard-to-reach information and sophisticated analysis at the drop of a hat. Legislative staff has provided timely information and service in a consistent, credible, professional manner that should be the envy of any legislative body, anywhere.
My entire career as a tax attorney and (former) CPA has prepared me for this role and I take my job seriously. When I am no longer Senate President one of the legacies I will leave to this state is excellent legislative staff. They are not perfect, but they are smart, motivated, problem solvers. They are highly competent, hard working, and innovative and they work incredibly well as a team.
"I am often these days attacked by bloggers, and while I make an effort NOT to read the misinformation about me and my work (just keep on plugging away), I know for a fact how inaccurate and unfair blogs can be."
We are aware of very few bloggers that have recently addressed Mr. Bernick's work. Here they are:
Who are the bloggers who are being inaccurate? Or unfair? The meeting with the Deseret News Editorial Board was recorded. The DNews should make the entire unedited conversation public and let people evaluate Mr. Bernick's work for themselves.
To say that this has been a very different growing season would be an understatement.
First, with the late wet cold spring, much of the planting was delayed and that impacted the growth of the plants as well. My brother-in-law who was gone to Scotland with his wife on a mission last year had returned so I had someone to help with the work but that also added another voice in the decision making. We have long disagreed about whether to plant two or just one row of pole beans. I like to stand the poles up against each other to help with windstorms but he thinks that two rows produce much more than we can use or freeze with one picking.
By the time he got them planted, he did two rows but about half did not grow so we have two rows of poles but only about one row of plants. They are just blossoming so I doubt we will have much before the first frost which is usually the second week in September for Logan.
Second, I took a family vacation for two weeks around Memorial Day when we just spent some time with our daughter and her family near Sacramento and our son near Portland. I believe my wife is still in shock that I would just go without meetings or other business that would interfere with just being together with the kids. My brother-in-law also found himself gone a lot being with their children and grandchildren after being gone 18 months. I am sad to say that I am rediscovering that there are times to plant and weed and nature doesn't wait for you to return from vacation. The long dry hot summer helped because we had plenty of irrigation water to keep the plants wet and growing.
With all of that said, let me say that the corn is doing very well. We have a very sweet variety that we receive raves from the people with whom it is shared. The tomatoes are not ripening very well but thankfully we have a son-in-law in Centerville that keeps us in good supply. The new potatoes are coming on with the four patches that we planted about two weeks apart. I will be digging new potatoes into October. I eat them all fresh because I don’t eat many potatoes in the winter; we do not store them like we did when I was growing up. The raspberries look good but they do not really come on until Labor Day. The apples are only so-so this year. I find that after a big year, they do not do as well the next year. My dad said that they need a year’s rest. There will be plenty to eat but I don’t know how our apple juicing will go.
I always cover myself with bug spray when I work in the garden but this year I have not noticed very many mosquitoes. That seems strange because, most years, they are really thick. I should feel good about that with the news that the West Nile Virus has turned up in the mosquitoes in Cache Valley this summer.
Today the DNews seems to have announced a legislative initiative to change the current referendum law.
We know of no movement afoot to alter the current system. We're not inclined to change the law. We feel the current balance is about right -- referendums and initiatives are tough, but doable.
Now, we did have a wide-ranging, open conversation with the Deseret Morning News' Editorial Board yesterday afternoon, and part of it was a philosophical discussion on referendums and initiatives. The article, however, is foreign to the tenor of that conversation.
Any push on our part to change the process is news to us.
Senate President John Valentine talked to Doug Wright about the article this morning. We'll link to the podcast when it's up.
[Update:] Here is the audio, about 48 minutes, 16 seconds into the first hour of the show.
. . . the only two Republican leaders quoted in the story -- Senate President John Valentine and Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble -- say it's the first they ever heard of such an effort.
. . . It's what Bramble and Valentine told me early this morning when I called to check out the front-page news in our competition. So what's going on? Dunno, but the story remained up on the D-News website all day without any correction or clarification.
. . . Editorial board meetings are recorded. If the D News can show me where any “GOP legislative leader” said we’d “take on the state’s referendum law,” I’ll print this entry and post a YouTube video of me eating it, saying, “Bob Bernick does not make up news,” between every bite. To the contrary, you would hear legislative leaders saying the exact opposite of what the D News reports; they would hear those leaders saying that Utah has the referendum balance in the right place.
The office building where I work every day has a very good air conditioning system that makes it so cool that some of the secretaries wear sweaters to keep warm. Try as we may, we can’t get them to raise it so it is not so cold. The problem is when I leave and hit the hot outdoors, it melts me. By the time I get home, I have lost any desire to go outside and work until just before sunset. This made me think about what it was like before air conditioning. We, of course, did not have it on the farm as I was growing up. In the summer when we had to haul hay and work outside during these very hot days, we would begin as soon as it was light and then work until dark with a several hour break during the heat of the day. It was a challenge to do the milking in between but we would separate so that some of the workers would milk while the rest of us would carry on. During the heat, we would take some time to play in a ditch or canal to cool off. No one seemed to be concerned about contracting some unknown disease from that water.
In our home, which was also not air conditioned, we had some relief from the heat by the adobe walls and a big shade tree that we grew on the west side of the home. It was the home in which my father was born in 1901 so it was not new. It seemed to be cool or maybe just cooler than outside. At night, I would often sleep on the patio outside. Although, that posed two problems - first I would receive a number of mosquito bites. I can’t remember if we ever had mosquito repellant. Secondly, we would roast. It was on the east side of the house so as soon as the sun was up, it was bright and there was no sleeping in like you could do with a good blind in the bedroom.
It was always a treat to make home-made ice cream. Maybe it was the anticipation of it being made or knowing you could control the ingredients. But nothing tasted better than home-made ice cream in the hot summer.
Contrast that to now. I find the air conditioning going in the car even when the temperature reaches a high of 70. It is nice to cut out the noise, wind and dust from a moving car but as gas prices continue to rise and air condition impacts fuel economy, you may see more and more people going open air.
I don’t know if we are really warmer now than we were 60 years ago but I am sure that we have lost our ability to adjust to the changes. I learned as a scout master that if you went camping in the snow and it got gradually colder, you were better prepared to change clothes so you could sleep in a snow cave. The thought of leaving a warm house in the middle of winter and doing the same thing outside in the snow is unacceptable. As energy costs spiral out of control, maybe we will have to begin using some of the methods our parents and grandparents did to handle the heat but it won’t be easy to give up the easy life.
By the way, when you begin making the home-made ice cream, call me if it is pineapple. I wonder how the pioneers made pineapple ice cream - it was probably just good old vanilla.
The Utah Opera Festival programs will end this weekend in Logan. They have been marvelous with rich talent and staging. The lead performers are first class from around the world. The choruses are made up of the understudies, any one of whom could take over the lead part. Someone remarked about the marvelous gift Michael Ballam has of picking out the talent from auditions around this nation of selecting truly gifted performers.
Tickets costs are very small compared with what you would have to pay to see these same performers sing in New York. I am always impressed to see how many people attend the short program just prior to the performance when Michael asks how many are from Utah and how many are from out of state. The out-of-staters out number the locals by a sizable amount.
The impact on the economy in Logan is tremendous. I would invite everyone who is looking for something to do this weekend, to head up to Cache Valley and enjoy these great shows. Otherwise, plan your summer next year to include a trip to see the opera. The love of the opera is even changing an old dinosaur like me.
"Dentists and physicians are dropping off at just an alarming rate," said Senator Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, a dentist who estimates at least half of his patients are on Medicaid.
"The dentists do not need the patients. They're busy enough with their regular-paying clients," he said. "But the patients need the dentists. It's an ongoing battle."
Advocates have long called for higher Medicaid reimbursements for work by dentists, and for the last four fiscal years, the Legislature has responded.
Reimbursements went up 4.3 percent in 2005; 4.8 percent in 2006 and 2 percent in 2007. In 2008, it spiked 30 percent, but for pregnant women and children only; adult services saw a 6 percent bump.
But a dentist work force analysis released last week by the Utah Medical Education Council (UMEC), shows the boost in funding may not have had the desired effect.
Nearly three-quarters of Utah's 1,075 dentists reported in 2006 that they would not accept new Medicaid patients, citing low reimbursement and missed appointments as the major reasons, the report said.
...I was especially struck by the words of Lane Beattie, CEO of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Utah Senate. He compared congested highways in northern Utah to clogged arteries in a human being.
. . . In Utah, the region's business community took action. And it worked.
Utah has won an award from the non-profit GovMark Council recognizing the state for the Online State Construction Registry maintained by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
The state of Utah was recognized as having the best overall marketing program as well as the best state and local program.
In its third year, the awards program organized by the GovMark Council recognizes marketing efforts directed at the government information technology market. Last year the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles was recognized for its marketing efforts.
"Looking at the winning programs, it is evident that the government IT community's most creative and effective marketing initiatives are integrated campaigns that leverage the benefits of both traditional and new media, " Stephen W.T. O'Keeffe, GovMark Council executive director said.
I was saddened to read of the passing of former State Senator Jack Bangerter. Jack represented the southern part of Davis County and I had the privilege of serving with him for several years in my early days in the Utah Senate. He was not bothered by such things as being "politically correct," he just said what needed to be said and made lots of sense in discussions on governmental direction. I still remember how he ended his fight against mandating seat belts by singing Don’t Buckle Me In to the tune of Don’t Fence Me In. He had a very good singing voice. He lost that debate never lost our respect. He loved America and our Constitutional rights. He was passionate for the things he believed in such as basic freedoms and the right to succeed with hard work. You knew where he stood on most issues and he was a great friend even when you disagreed on an issue.
My first acquaintance with Jack occurred well before my Senate experience. I graduated from law school in 1967 and moved back to Logan. While waiting for the bar exam results to be released I worked for my uncle who, among other things, raised potatoes that he sold to Jack. I drove a truck load of potatoes to Bountiful and was waiting for his crew to unload them. Jack was working as hard as any of his employees and looked at me standing there waiting for them to finish so I could drive the empty truck home. He looked at me and said, "No one stands around here when there is work to do." I immediately jumped in and helped along with the others. I realized then, and was proven right by my later experience with Jack, that there was no better man to join with to do a job - no matter how difficult - than Senator Bangerter.
Forbes ranks Utah the second best state in the nation for business, noting: "Virginia has maintained the top spot since our first Best States ranking in 2006. This year, though, its lead over second-ranked Utah was razor thin. In fact, the top five states ... were all closely bunched together." See chart of rankings.