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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Test

Test. Did this make to the blog? How about the site feed?

Good Question

From Tom at alt-tag.com:
Utah does pretty well with e-government, but one thing continues to bug me: our election contributions reporting system. The key point is this: How much more powerful could it be if it exposed the data in a published RESTful XML format, suitable for use in mashups?

Constitutional Amendment E

Should we invest $1 Billion of the State's Education money in Private Entities?

This is the question posed in Constitutional Amendment E, one of the proposed constitutional changes put forward to voters on November 4th.

You have the decision to change the Utah Constitution to allow State and Education officials to invest $1 Billion in state funds to the stocks or bonds of private companies.

Check out the DNews article here.

Also, see the exact language and explanation of the amendment in the Voter's Guide here. (Page 45)

Monday, October 20, 2008

%#$@! Site Feed

Bluehost instigated some internal changes in their system and now our site feed doesn't work. Apparently, it's been non-functioning since 8/29. $#%@! No wonder comments have decreased.

We're working with their mostly-stellar tech support to undo the damage. Has anyone else had similar problems? Got a fix?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October Interim

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Time Capsule: Word from 1999

If ONLY someone could have predicted the current crisis and need for a government rescue . . . .

Senator Niederhauser came across a copy of this nine-year-old New York Times article and passed it along.
September 30, 1999

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending
By STEVEN A. HOLMES

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders. The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits. In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements,'' said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. ''Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.'' Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 -- a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

. . . In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Innovators Award

Hit & Run mentions Utah legislators Howard Stephenson and Craig Frank's Innovators in Action Award.

In addition to [Mary] Peters and [Rick] Perry, the Reason Foundation publication features essays by and interviews with U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, Utah Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Craig Frank, New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak, the late Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, Denver Regional Transportation District CEO Cal Marsella, King County (WA) Executive Ron Sims, and BASIS Charter Schools co-founder Olga Block.

In their own words, this bipartisan group of leaders reveal how they are reducing government spending and reforming bureaucracy; how they are collaborating with the private sector to build new infrastructure and deliver cost-savings and better services to taxpayers; how they are advancing market-based transportation solutions to reduce congestion and improve mobility; how they reforming public education delivery and advancing school choice; and how they are reforming urban public transit operations.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Word from the Second Floor

It's a wrap. The Governor just signed six Special Session bills. (He signed the legislation dealing with legislative pay last week.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What's going on this weekend?

A play, a marathon, a CHIP Van Tour. . . . Check out the new Utah Calendar Twitter site.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Analysis from Down South

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Word from Utah County

Today's Daily Herald:
Overall they did well, which is good because this session is just a warm-up for tough choices they'll likely face in the regular session.

The slowing economy punctured some revenue assumptions, so Gov. Jon Huntsman called the special session to take spending down a notch or two. Legislators cut $354 million in spending to balance the budget for the current fiscal year.

The governor and lawmakers acted commendably. They could have waited until January, but taking action now addresses trouble before it gets worse. Because Utah legislators are part-time, the whole process required personal sacrifices of time as representatives and senators dropped their normal occupations to stream to the Capitol.

The lawmakers vowed that they would not allow public education to be hurt by the cuts in the current budget year, and they succeeded in shielding it.

That was a prudent move, considering the esteem Utahns have for education and the fact that (mainly because of large families) the state already spends less per capita on public education than any other state.

Utah's Legislature has a terrific track record of sound fiscal management, and the special session only served to reinforce that reputation. Legislative leaders said they planned to continue their pattern of prudence.

They seem to have spread the pain around evenly and judiciously. Almost every state function (aside from public education) will take a 3 percent budget cut; higher education took 4 percent. The reductions included trims in travel expenses, state building projects and administrative costs.

But the lawmakers wanted to avoid deep cuts in spending on core infrastructure, and they seem to have succeeded there, too. They argued that in the long run spending on roads and other vital projects would be counterproductive. Costs will only rise.

But making infrastructure a priority prompted the predictable complaint that the legislature was promoting roads and neglecting human beings. It's worth looking at this notion, for it surely will come up in future budget battles.

First of all, what would motivate elected officials to neglect human beings? Roads don't vote; people do. Politicians always try to help people. The question is how to do it.

Utah must give a reasonably high priority to keeping its roads in good shape. If nothing else, the economy depends on it. If the roads crumble, there will be less money for social programs.

The rebuild of Interstate 15 in Utah County is the best example. The state must fund some alternate routes, or the region's economy will get slammed during the time its main highway is being revamped. The best way to ensure that Utah can watch out for people is to keep the highways in the best shape possible.

Moreover, government usually does a fairly good job at building roads. It has had less success in trying to solve human problems. Giving infrastructure a high priority is the best way to ensure that the state will be able to meet other needs.

All in all, Utah seems to have maintained its tradition of prudent, careful budgeting. With Congress and the U.S. Treasury running up trillions in debt and states running into the red by billions, our Legislators seem wiser than ever.

No one thinks this is the end of budget turmoil. Utah's own experts predict the economy will remain sluggish through 2009. Legislators were able to avoid some additional cuts only by taking some money from programs that were funded for one year to pay for ongoing items such as salaries. In effect, they only delayed further budget cuts.

It's true that the state has about $500 million in reserve. But the budget has grown to about $11 billion. That reserve can plug a couple of holes, but it may not be able to neutralize all the red ink that could come our way in the next year or two.

That makes the next session of the Legislature one of the most important in years. It's good that our lawmakers had a little practice before January.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Legislator of the Year

Majority Leader Curt Bramble was just presented with ALEC's Legislator of the Year Award.

Listen to the podcast on SenateRadio.

Candidates: Don't Forget Federalism

Georgette Deemer posted this synopsis of yesterday's press release:

Leaders of the Big 7 state and local government organizations sent a message to the presidential candidates a few days ago. The message: "Don't forget us! Pay more attention to state and local governments when you draft national policy."

The Big 7 are the National Governors Association (NGA), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the Council of State Governments (CSG), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

Together, they sent out a press release on Monday, September 29th, to remind the candidates of the vital relationship between federal, state and county governments, and to follow two main principles:

+To consult with state and local leaders on the effects of national policy and programs on the citizens of their area.

+To encourage the next administration to promote innovation at the state and local level, and to maximize flexibility by the state and local governments in implementing federal policy.

In addition, they call upon the next administration to take the following actions within 60 days of taking office:
• Reaffirm an Executive Order on Federalism;
• Establish an Office of Intergovernmental Affairs within the White House to serve as a conduit between the President and state and local leaders immediately after taking office; and
• Meet with members of the Big 7 state and local organizations to discuss how best to develop a strong partnership to address national policy.

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