"As legislators, we know that we are in direct competition with other states for human and investment capital," said Utah Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman, Senator Wayne Niederhauser. "Rich States, Poor States has provided invaluable information to strengthen our efforts to reduce tax burdens in Utah and we are happy to again be ranked as the most competitive state in the nation."
Tom Harvey reported on the Guv's Economic Summit today. First paragraph :
Though challenges remain, the nation's recession shows signs of bottoming out, while Utah's economy is poised by the end of the year to see a return of high rates of growth, an economist told the Governor's Utah Economic Summit today.
Today, the Navajo Nation thanked the Utah Legislature for the passage of HJR 5 - Joint Resolution Supporting Needed Improvement in the Navajo Nation's Ability to Collect and Track Child Support Payments.
Click here to listen to the podcast or here at Senate Radio.
Yeah, it's a work in progress. When it's finished, visitors will find all the functionality of the old site, plus RSS-fired postings from both senate blog sites and upcoming public meetings. We added pics, audio & video archives and links to Senate 3.0 accessory sites like Twitter and Facebook and a new webcam visitors can steer around the Senate Chambers. Etcetera.
We're still working out the bugs, but would sincerely appreciate insight and thoughtful suggestions from our technology superheroes and political gurus. Respond here or by Email.
Thanks in advance for your help.
And thanks to the bright folk at Utah Interactive for being so cool to work with.
Our loving husband, father and grandfather, Arnold Christensen, passed away Wednesday, March 25, 2009 due to complications with diabetes.
He was born July 26, 1 936 in Salt Lake City to Walter A. Christensen and Joyce Pierce Christensen. He was a graduate of Granite High School where he was later inducted into their Hall of Fame. He attended the University of Utah and also received various honorary degrees from institutions throughout the state.
Arnold's greatest love is his family. He married his eternal sweetheart Necia Ann Larsen in the Salt Lake City Temple on May 10, 1956. They raised three daughters and one son. He shared many fond memories with his family including golfing, fishing, hunting, ball games and family vacations. He set an example for all who knew him. His life was filled with service and love.
He was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where he served in many capacities, including Bishop, Stake President and Mission President in Raleigh, North Carolina. He owned and operated Christensen Electric and served on the Cottonwood Hospital Board of Directors. He was elected to the Utah State Senate where he served for 17 years; 10 years as President. He also served as President of the National Congress of State Legislators.
Arnold is survived by his loving wife, Ann; children, Valerie (Jeff) Cutrer, Cheryl (Kraig) Berrett, Kathy (Lowell) Hansen, Bruce (Tara) Christensen; 1 6 grandchildren and 1 6 great grandchildren; brother, Walter R. (Zada) Christensen; sisters. Joy (George) Batty and Jeanne (Lee) Eyre. Preceded in death by his pa rents and sister, Bonnie Christensen.
Funeral Services will be held Saturday, March 28th at 1 2 noon at the Draper 6th Ward, 12870 So. 1300 E., Draper. Visitations will be held Friday, March 27th from 6-8 p.m. at Larkin Sunset Gardens Mortuary, 1950 E. 10600 So., Sandy, and one hour prior to services at the Ward on Saturday.
A college student wrote to ask me for her class assignment what the most pressing issue facing our society. I decided not to speak to moral issues but said the following:
The most pressing governmental policy issue is the expansion of the federal government into areas I believe are unconstitutional. And whether or not these actions are unconstitutional, the funding for the federal government's programs and bail-out packages is unsustainable. The government has shouldered staggering debt to finance programs and the bail-outs. The massive expenditure of funds in the bail-out/stimulus packages will, by almost everyone's admission, cause serious inflation. Moreover, taxes will have to be increased, jobs and company expansions will be curtailed with higher taxes, and more and more people will become dependent on the federal government for income, health care and food.
The taxpaying sector of our economy is shrinking as the entitlement programs expand. We will reach a breaking point unless we retrench. Even if we ratchet back federal expenditures, it will take years of surpluses to repay the debt created in the last year. I don't know if the federal government can continue to borrow the money in the bond market which it will need to fund the spending required by its programs and to carry the trillions of dollars of ongoing national debt. If foreign countries like China should cease buying our bonds (for 0% yield) simply as a safe harbor for their capital and to keep the giant US economy going so that we will buy its consumer products, our country will become insolvent.
Generally, I will say that we can no longer afford all the government we are getting.
At the state level many of our sister states have not acted prudently. California and New York are glaring examples of state governments that have taxed heavily to provide many social benefits and aggressive government programs. Utah has sometimes been looked down on as a state that didn't provide the level of benefits of these other more "progressive" states. However, in this downturn we see that states like NY and CA simply cannot sustain the revenue needed to pay the very high-cost public programs. They are raising taxes and consequently losing companies and jobs and people. By contrast, this week Utah was named the most competitive business state in the nation because of our stable, low-tax, business-friendly environment. See the report here.
Utah has balanced its budget, kept taxes low and lived within its means. Yes, we do not fund education and higher education at levels thought of as normal in other states. But we have not had the number of high income jobs necessary to finance such tax revenues. So we will do our best with what we have and continue to attract businesses from other highly-taxed, highly-regulated states. And we will continue to do more with less as we always have.
A. The President of the Senate will send a copy of the governor’s explanation letters (linked below) to each Utah Senator along with a veto-override form. Those packets will go out April 2nd. (The Guv has until April 1st to sign or veto our bills.)
B. Senators will consider the information available and indicate whether or not they favor a veto override session and which bills, if any they want to override. They will sign the form and send it back to the President. The House of Representatives will do something similar for their members.
C. If two-thirds of both legislative bodies vote to override, the President and Speaker will schedule a Veto Override Session, which must take place within 60 days of the end of the session.
Each vetoed bill will start in the house of its origin (these are House Bills, so they would start in the House). Vetoed bills need two-thirds of the members of both houses to pass the bill before they become law. Exact rules are outlined in JR2-2-201.
Two Sundays ago, I was excited to hear that USU would be playing their first game of the NCAA playoff Friday in Boise, which is a comfortable drive from Logan. Tip-off would be at 10:30 a.m. I knew my calendar that day included a legal hearing that morning, which had been long set, and a speaking engagement in Ogden at noon. Then I got a call from my teenage granddaughter, who lives in Davis County and became a solid Aggie fan when she first saw JayCee Carroll make a series of three-point shots. She asked me if there was any way we could go to their game in Boise.
I began rearranging my schedule first thing Monday morning. I found an associate who could cover the hearing (with the client’s consent) and my good friend, Sen. Greg Bell, was willing and able to cover the speaking engagement in Ogden. I then checked with USU about getting tickets and they were sold out. Luckily, I was able to get 3 tickets from President Stan Albrecht’s Office (of which I paid for in full).
Friday morning, I got up at 4:00 a.m. and met my family just off the Tremonton exit on I-15 at 5:00 a.m. We headed to Boise, arriving there about 9:00 a.m. It was fun to see all the Utah cars along the freeway with the Aggie blue paraphernalia. The Boise State arena was practically full. I guessed about 15,000 people in attendance, with, by far, the majority cheering on the Aggies. Unfortunately, there was not much to cheer about the first half. The second half was a different story. Although, as you already know, we fell short, losing the game by one point.
This team has won some tight games this year and has always been exciting to watch. Four of the starters grew up in Utah and have made the state proud. As I visited with fans after the game, many felt the same way.
USU played a great game and made up for a bad first half with a great second half. I give tremendous credit to a great coach, Stew Morrill, who has proven himself not only a great coach but a great teacher of young men. We can always look forward to next season!
Hoping to lure big-budget films to Utah, Governor Huntsman signed the film incentive bill on Monday (along with about 3 dozen other bills).
"Jason Perry, director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the state's film incentive lagged behind its neighbors and, because of a $500,000 cap in place, big-budget films that expressed interest in the state -- like Transformers or G.I. Joe -- wouldn't shoot here. And there hasn't been a television series filming in the state since 2006."
. . . the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the administration's agenda would generate deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion a year over the next decade -- $2.3 trillion more than the president predicted when he unveiled his spending plan just one month ago.
And while Obama would come close to meeting his goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term, the CBO predicts that the nation's annual operating deficit would never drop below 4 percent of the overall economy over the next decade, a level administration officials have said is unsustainable because the national debt would grow too rapidly.
By the CBO's estimate, for example, the nation's debt would grow to 82 percent of the overall economy by 2019 under Obama's policies, compared with a pre-recession average of 40 percent.
"Any time you have to run legislation and change your state policy and code for one-time money, that doesn't make a lot of sense," said Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse. Lawmakers have to either kill the program when the money is gone or find a way to fund a benefit "you don't want in the first place."
Legislators explored whether they could include a sunset date in the revisions, to have the expanded benefits expire when the federal money runs out, and were told they could not. It was unclear whether they could come back and just repeal the program later on, so they did nothing this session.
"Unless you fully understand what you're doing," Killpack said, "you're better to leave the money on the table than put a new program into code that you're not planning to keep."
What needs to be acknowledged is that when the flow of federal money stops, this state will be required by the provisions established through acceptance of the stimulus money, to continue funding these expanded benefits.
. . . . What happens when the money stops coming in? Will different states be able to handle paying for these benefits? I think that it is worth investigation.
Good to be home: What does a legislator do when session ends?
By Lyle Hillyard Utah State Senator: Cache Valley
We stayed in Salt Lake City Friday after the session ended so we could take our grandchildren to Disney on Ice. It also gave us a chance to visit Arnold Christensen who served so long as the President of the Senate. He is recovering from a fall. Driving home, I tried to listen to the Aggie basketball game on the radio with New Mexico State. As we arrived home, I had to stay in my van the last 10 seconds to hear Tyler Newbold score the winning basket.
I have found over the years that when I listen or watch the Aggies or the Jazz play, they always lose so I was pleased that my listening did not have that effect this time.
I got up early the next morning and went for my usual walk. It was very dark and cold. I then realized that another great difference this year is that day light savings time began three weeks early. I have found over the years that when I get home from the session, it is time for spring to begin. Logan is so cold this year that spring may never come. It sure felt that way Saturday morning. I did take time to drive by my garden to see if I could begin the caning of the raspberries only to discover that it is covered with at least a foot of snow. Alice found plenty of work in the garage and around the house when I complained about not being able to work outside.
I enjoyed watching the Aggies win Saturday night. I hope that my curse of watching or listening to the Aggies has been removed. I was not so fortunate with the Jazz. I only listened to the first part and the ending of the third overtime. Maybe I should have watched or listened to the whole game. My curse is so bad that my children say that when the Jazz begin to lose they know that I have just tuned in.
Sodas, like smokes, are a luxury. You can tax them without depriving anyone of a necessity of life. Because diet sodas create their own metabolic problems that have been tied to obesity and heart disease, even though they don't contain sugar, there's no reason not to tax them, too. Ditto for the energy drinks.
Since it's OK to tax tobacco in the name of public health, Utah should be all over a soda tax. That would spread the tax burden to many more people, and like smokers, if they wanted to opt out, they could.
Now the session has ended, it is interesting to hear all the comments about what a good job was done in so many areas where the concerns at the beginning were so great. Let me reflect on what I spent most of my time doing – that was the budget.
The process we used seemed to work well. We knew that we were going to need budget reductions in face of the falling revenue collections. The first week was like the last week because it was full time for me to complete the changes on the 09 budget.
After February 17th when the new revenues were announced, it was full time again completing the 2010 budget. Many were concerned that our goal of cutting 15% was way too high but it turned out that this amount was correct when we added in the money needed for growth items such as public education and Medicaid.
We did not need to use our Rainy Day fund or the Education set aside because of the federal spending package. We used about $400.0 M for that and saved the $514.0 M in the two state funds. That will give us cushion if the revenues continue to slide between now and June 30th when the 09 budget year ends. It will also protect us if we need more help during the 2010 year and as we begin the budget for 2011. Hopefully the economy will rebound before then but that is hard to predict.
We are stretched but I believe the investment into infrastructure of roads and buildings will help alleviate some of the problems we have allow to build in those areas and will immediately put our construction workers to work. The reduction in construction costs is remarkable. For instance, we had planned on the widening of the freeway through Utah County from American Fork to Spanish Fork to cost $2.6 B. The latest projection is $1.725 B. Building costs have gone down by 10% in the last 6 months.
We have also back filled the education and human services budgets so that Public Ed’s cut is 5.2 % (even less than the 6% we originally targeted) and Higher Ed at 9%. Health and Human Services will have a net cut of about 11%. This is a little misleading because their base cuts are about 16% and if the revenues don’t pick up and our reserves are used up, it could be ugly for 2011. We are a lot better positioned than any other state that we have discovered. The bond rating companies continue to rank us as Triple A and are astounded by the fact that we still have not used any of our rainy day funds.
Today is the final day of session. The Senate will work on House Bills. The House will work on Senate Bills. The Senate will concur (or not) to House amendments to Senate Bills. The House will concur (or not) to Senate amendments to House Bills.
Watch for conference committees throughout the day. (A conference committee is the negotiating team that attempts to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.) In prior years you could find them by listening for shouting. This year - not so much.
Senate Leadership will prioritize senate bills for the House to consider. House Leadership will prioritize house bills for the Senate to consider. Leadership of both bodies will trade lists.
Bills are debated and acted on much faster than earlier in the session. You’ll see hopes rise and fall as the clock hurtles toward midnight.
We're hoping to finish early this year. We'll see. The latest we can continue work is the stroke of midnight when the voting machine locks up. You can watch or listen live on our official site.
It's been a tough but productive session. Beneficial, I hope. Thanks for paying attention.
Utah political bloggers push the envelope again Wednesday night. New media paradigm. I need my bosses to understand who you are, and what you do and I want you -- gentle bloggers -- to get to know the senators and become more frequent fliers up here on the Hill.
Nuts and bolts:
Blogger meeting with Senate Leadership, on Wednesday, March 11, 2009, at 6:00 p.m., in the Senate President's Office.
Five ways you can join in:
1. Be there in person. State Capitol, third floor. Here's where to park. Tell the Sergeants-at-Arms you are here for The Blog Thing.
Breaking news from everyone's favorite 80s rockers, in The Onion:
NEW YORK—In a stunning reversal of their long-stated reluctance to take it, members of heavy-metal band Twisted Sister announced Monday that, after 24 years of fervent refusal, they are now willing to take it. "I acknowledge that we promised not to take it anymore, but things change. The world is a different place today, and with that in mind, we would like to go on record as saying that, starting right now, we are going to take it," read a statement released by the band's lead singer, Dee Snider. "To clarify, we would still prefer not to take it, but as of now, taking it is an option that we would be open to. That is all."
Senator Urquhart’s SB 208 passed the second reading on the Senate floor this afternoon. This bill deals with how the state is going to provide legal notices. Right now, a lot of legal notices have to be posted in the newspaper as well as three public places. SB 208 would move legal notices from newspapers and put them instead on a state-controlled website. The point of these notices is to keep the public informed. Senator Urquhart said that, “The best way to do this is to have a central repository. All Government entities, consumers and individuals that have to publish a legal notice will benefit from this bill.” Listen to the floor debate here.
This morning I spoke with Senator Buttars about the House Bill he's sponsoring, HB 222 - Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act. This bill says that before an abortion is to take place, the mother should be informed of any anesthetic that would eliminate or alleviate pain to the unborn child. This bill passed the third reading in the Senate today and has been sent to the Governor for further approval. To listen to our discussion about the bill, click here.
There are a number of countries that have adopted nuclear energy for power generation; notably France, the United Kingdom and the United States. The availability is not completely global, but is continuing to be a more desired energy source. This morning the Senate approved Senator Hinkins’ Senate Joint Resolution 16, which is in support of the development of nuclear power plants in the state of Utah.
Because there is a ban facing some states for nuclear power plants, this bill gives the green light for companies to use nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Senator Hinkins says that the main benefit of nuclear power is the fact that it’s a “good base load generator.” With nuclear power as the main energy source or “base load”, we could easily supplement the other types of energy sources such as wind generation, hydro and geothermal wind, and solar power etc. This bill also supports the development of alternative sources like advance coal combustion technologies. The bill has been sent to the House for further approval.
SB 78 - Protection of Constitutionally Guaranteed Activities in Certain Private Venues would protect the rights of employees to keep firearms in their private vehicles parked in an employers parking lot. Under this bill, private employers have the option of providing alternative parking or a secure monitored gun locker for employees who wish to have a firearm in their car for sporting, self-protection or other purposes on their way to and/or from work.
Businesses, other than those governed by Federal law (that specifically prohibits employees from keeping firearms in their personal cars parked in the business' parking lots), can prohibit employees from exercising their second amendment rights only if they can demonstrate that providing alternative parking or a secured gun locker for employees places an undue burden on the employer.
Oil refineries have a special unconditional exemption from abiding by this law and do not have to consider providing alternative parking or lockers under the terms of an amendment added to the bill at the request of the oil refinery lobby prior to passage in the Senate.
SB 78 passed the Senate today and moves to the House.
*We are having a few technical difficulties with our LiveStreaming today, but stay tuned. We may get it fixed in the next few minutes. (The full podcast of the briefing will be available this afternoon)
I was so busy this past week that I did not have time to review any comments on the blogs I had posted. (Here and here and here) Laura printed them for me to review, but I did not have time to reply until the quiet of a Sunday afternoon. So here it is:
My concern that the stock market had not responded favorably to the spending package was probably not expressed clearly. I am not concerned about the Wall Street bankers but about what I feel and hear to be the lack of consumer confidence, those who choose to invest and where. From what I have been reading, there are an abundance of financial advisers who are no longer working. Until people feel that we have the economy under control, they will not invest and the stock market will remain down. I received a better breakdown of where the federal spending money is targeted and I don’t see a lot of stimulus to encourage private enterprise to begin hiring and thus restore confidence.
Click here to see the handout prepared by the joint efforts of our exceptional staff, the staff from the Governor’s office and the agencies, outlining the federal spending package. I would love your input on how to incorporate this money into the jigsaw puzzle called the state budget. I also enjoyed reading this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal that used an analogy similar to my diet analogy.
Next, let me respond to the suggestion that if I don’t like the strings on the federal spending package, I should simply reject the money. That solution would be an easy sell to the majority caucus if there are serious strings attached to this money. The problem is that no one can determine with certainty what strings are in place. My plan is to recommend (and that is all I can do) that we use as much of the federal money as we can in clearly one-time projects like education building and equipment. The more we use in on-going programs, the bigger cliff we build if the economy is still down at the end of FY 2010. We can still have the rainy day fund and the $100.0 M in one-time set asides for FY 2011. We could still balance the budget for this year (down $171.0 M) as per our latest revenue projections two weeks ago.
Because the spending package is one-time money it does not solve the real problem of finding on-going revenue. The Governor wants to take the on-going from the Transportation Fund and bond for the shortfall but that has serious problems too extensive to discuss in this blog. The legislature is waiting for him to recommend some other source of funding. An increase in the tobacco tax would not raise enough money. The Governor does not favor reinstating part of the sales tax on food, increasing the gas tax or working with EnergySolutions. Those will be the points of discussion this week.
"We surveyed several cities and towns and on average, most cities were spending between $10,000 and $50,000 on notice postings. In light on the economic climate as well as diminishing public resources, it is our opinion that a move in this direction is both fiscal responsible and prudent.
". . . In light of some of the concern raised about Internet access in rural parts of the state, Sen. Urquhart has also intended to limit the scope of the bill to counties of the first and second class, where Internet access is not a concern."
SB 159, Math Education Initiative, is an important milestone in the efforts of a number of people to bring better math to Utah. Over the past few decades, Utah, and our country, has continued to fall behind other high achieving countries in our math education. There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it is low standards, poor curriculum, and poor teacher preparation to teach math.
This bill starts a process which has led other schools and districts to see dramatic improvements in math education. In Los Angeles for example, in one year, Ramona Elementary increased their students grade level passing scores from 45% to 76% (a 69% increase).
At Benchmark charter school in Arizona, students there have become the top scoring math students in the state passing up Saxon math schools that have held the title for several years. Benchmark also has the notable distinction of 94% of the student body declaring math as their favorite subject! Not only to the kids do well in math, they love it! Is there another school in America let alone Utah where that has happened?
Singapore's math advantage is in the fact that they have only 15-20 standards to master each year, where Utah has 50-70 (thus the term "mile wide and inch deep"). This gives Singapore students about 9-10 days per subject to master it deeply, while American counterparts are changing subjects every 2-3 days. Singapore also has a curriculum structured such that you don't touch a subject and not master it. Their plan is to approach a subject completely and let the student master it and then move on to new subjects (while always using what they've learned). In American curriculum, we often see subjects being touched multiple times which leads to frustration and a lack of mastery from our students.
There are a number of misconceptions floating around concerning this bill. Most of those concerns can be easily resolved by reading the bill, but we have also set up a FAQ which further explains some of these issues. For example, concerns about cultural differences have been shown to be a non-issue when you look at how American schools have implemented the program retaining our lifestyle just fine, while asking students to think deeply about the subject matter.
The basic concept behind the bill is to allow schools to request grant money to adopt the world's most effective known curriculum (Singapore's Primary Math Series), and then educate teachers in the content and pedagogy that produce these amazing results.
Wide support has been shown for this bill from legislators, educators, state and district school board members, directors of curriculum in Utah districts, and many, many parents who have seen the need for such a program.
As one who has worked on this project for several years with a number of very talented and committed individuals, I am pleased at the growing support and potential this bill will provide to Utah's math future.