Last week, my wife and I traveled (at our own expense) to Prattville, Alabama for the birthday party of a grandson who turned 12. While there, I heard about a problem that Jefferson County, Alabama was having because they ran out of money. This is the Birmingham area, the largest city in the State. There were allegations of mismanagement and even some illegal activities by elected officials that caused this problem. The county had closed down all public services except scaled down police and firemen services. The Governor had called the state legislature into a special session to authorize the county to impose a special income tax on county residents to let the county begin operations again.
Someone gave me several newspaper articles to read that tried to explain what was going on. I was shocked to read that the bill passed the House with a two vote margin and according to the newspaper, one House member had voted yes for a fellow member of the House who was absent because of illness. It appeared they voted electronically like our House members do. The absent House member was very angry because he said he would have voted no and had not authorized anyone to vote for him. I think anyone doing that in Utah would have been in serious trouble not only with his fellow members of the House, but with the public as well.
Then the measure passed the Senate by a close vote, something like 19-16, but I found it very interesting that there were 10 who abstained from voting. That is also not allowed in Utah. We have discussed allowing someone to not vote by declaring a conflict of interest but the only way you can miss a vote is to be off the floor when the voting occurs (if any Senator asked for a call of the Senate, security will find you and force you to come vote on the floor).
I understand that the elected officials in Jefferson County must enact the tax increase. It was just interesting to read how it came about.
PS - When I told a friend who is retired Air Force where I was going in August, he said that the longest four years of his life were in the month of August when he was at Maxwell Air Force in Alabama. This is the base where my son-in-law is stationed. I avoided the heat and humidity by staying in air-conditioned cars, homes, and restaurants. We walked out of an air-conditioned building at 8:00 pm and my glasses fogged over.
The New York Times featured a story on a new Utah law about the penalties of texting while driving.
"In most states, if somebody is texting behind the wheel and causes a crash that injures or kills someone, the penalty can be as light as a fine.
Utah is much tougher.
After a crash here that killed two scientists — and prompted a dogged investigation by a police officer and local victim’s advocate — Utah passed the nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel. Offenders now face up to 15 years in prison."
I would like to invite everyone to the 5th annual Capitol Discovery Day tomorrow, Saturday, August 29th at the Utah State Capitol, beginning at Noon.
This free event is open to the public and offers something for everyone with all-day Live Music, Free Food, Fun Activities and a Free Movie.
Utah families and community members are invited to take part in celebrating the history of the Capitol through turn of the century outdoor games, activities, and entertainment for everyone to enjoy. Some of the games include hoop ‘n’ stick, potato sack races, jump rope and parachute. Participants will also have the chance to enjoy live music performed by local bands throughout the day on the newly renovated, historical Capitol Grounds.
Beginning around 8:30 p.m., we will be featuring the last installment of Movie Under the Stars by playing Bedtime Stories.
About a year ago, Senator Dan Liljenquist miraculously survived a horrible plane crash in Guatemala while on a humanitarian mission. Still recovering from the wounds of that day, the senator recalls his experience to Robert Gehrke of the Salt Lake Tribune.
There are actually four primary versions of the proposed health care bill. In addition, a fifth version from the Senate Finance Committee is expected in the near future. It is certain that there will also be many proposed amendments. In total, these bills represent more than 1,600 pages. The House Affordable Health Care Choice Act, in itself, has more than 1,000 pages. Not only is this bill extremely long, but it is written in governmentese, making it difficult to understand and subject to interpretation, which is even more frightening.
Here is a collection of my questions and concerns - some were spurred by outside sources, some from my own readings of the bill:
Page 124, Lines 24-25: Does this ban anyone from suing the federal government? And does it ban the entire judicial system from hearing cases on the legitimacy of the proposed plan?
Are all federal employees exempt from the proposed national health care program(s)?
Pages 272 & 452: The entire bill is loaded with the comment, “As determined appropriate by the Secretary.” What does this mean?
Page 429, Lines 10-11: In addition to almost everything being subject to the Secretary’s approval, the words the “Secretary may” are also peppered throughout the bill. What does this mean?
Page 226, Lines 12-22: An example of “governmentese.”
Page 58, Lines 11-13: Will everyone be issued a government health care ID? Will it outline limitations of services we can receive?
Page 317, Line 13-20: Prohibits doctors from purchasing or investing in health care facilities from the point of plan implementation.
Page 91, Lines 4-7: Mandates that health care providers pay for interpreters for illegal aliens.
Page 170, Lines 1-3: Stipulates that all nonresident aliens are exempt from the tax penalty presented in this chapter. Does that mean nonresident aliens will pay nothing for their health care?
Page 272, Section 1145: Cancer treatment rationed “as determined appropriate by the Secretary.”
Page 280, Section 1151: Imposes penalties and fines on hospitals for “preventable” visits.
Page 298, Lines 9-11: Could impose penalties and fines on hospitals for re-admission after first treatment (fix on the first try or suffer the consequences).
Page 341, Lines 3-9: Does this grant federal power to arbitrarily disqualify HMO’s, thereby forcing people into public health care at random?
Page 149, Lines 16-24: Imposes an 8 percent payroll tax penalty for any employer that makes more than $400,000 and fails to offer to its employees the option to enroll in a qualified health care plan.
Page 195: The Secretary will have full access to every citizen’s most private records.
Does everyone have a right to government health care? Where and when was that right established?
Page 429, Lines 10-12, & Page 430, Lines 12-14: May seniors opt out of end-of-life consultations?
Page 429, Lines 10-12: Empowers federal government to create physician payments for end-of-life plans under something called “advance care consultation.” Can decisions by the patient be overridden by the Secretary in an advance-care consultation plan?
Page 429, Lines 13-25: The health care bill is 1,018 pages. I would venture that the rules to implement these pages would, at least, double the size of the bill.
One of the foundational reasons for the Affordable Health Choices Act is to reduce health care costs. Since the most conservative estimate to implement this program is $1 trillion (some say it will be multiples of that), how, then, can a dramatic rationing of health care services be avoided? How drastically will health care services be rationed?
Note: These questions and concerns cover only the first 500 pages. The other 500 pages are every bit as concerning.
Page 768, Lines 20-24, and Page 769, Lines 1-3: Is the language concerning increasing the birth intervals between pregnancies mandatory?
Page 1018, Lines 6-19: In regards to “subtitle E, limitation on federal funds,” does this require compliance by the state to the entire bill or federal funds will be withheld?
I have read and reread this bill several times. Everything considered, it’s my personal opinion that this act is more about government control than health care; and there is no doubt it pushes our nation toward classic socialism. Just under half of the items, above, were raised from my readings of the bill. Other references cited here came from E-mail and blog sources, but the questions are mine. I am concerned and sincerely interested in honest answers.
Media Release: Congressman Bishop in Legislative Committee to discuss Cap & Trade
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 19, 2009
CONGRESSMAN BISHOP TO ATTEND LEGISLATIVE NATURAL RESOURCES, AGRICULTURE, AND ENVIRONMENT INTERIM COMMITTEE
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Congressman Rob Bishop will attend the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 to discuss Cap & Trade (the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454)). This topic is first on the agenda.
The meeting will be held at 2:00 p.m. in room 210 of the Senate Building on the Utah State Capitol Campus.
Those who cannot attend the meeting at the Capitol may listen live at www.le.utah.gov.
Heads up - House and Senate Leadership made the following statement about 10 minutes ago:
"Earlier today, Majority legislative leadership and Governor Herbert instructed the Utah Board of Regents to fully fund the New Century Scholarship.
"The past week both sides of the aisle have provided constructive input in trying to come up with a solution. Legislative Leadership will continue to work with the Governor and the Utah Board of Regents between now and the legislative session to specify funding sources. We expect that the amount of the scholarship restoration will be a reallocation from within the Higher Education budget.
"The Board of Regents has agreed to notify qualified recipients, within 72 hours, that their scholarship will be fully funded."
To quote the August 6, 2009 Provo Daily Herald, “The more you look at the Democrats’ proposed health insurance scheme, the scarier it gets.”
I have had, literally, a hundred calls from constituents, members of the legislature and clients trying to get a handle on the “Health Care Reform Bill” that is working its way through Congress. I usually ask, “Which reform bill are you addressing? Are you speaking of the 1,018-page version of HR3200 entitled ‘America’s Affordable Health Choices Act?’” This bill passed on July 31st from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is primarily sponsored by John Dingle. (Incidentally, Congressman Matheson voted No in the committee on a close committee vote of 32 to 28.)
“Or are you referring to the version passed by the Health, Education and Labor Committee on July 17th by a 26 to 22 vote?”
“Perhaps you are referring to the House version passed by the House Ways and Means Committee, which also passed on a close vote with three Democrats and all Republicans voting no on July 17th.”
“Wait, you must be speaking about the unnumbered Senate bill entitled ‘Affordable Health Choices Act.’ It’s only 615 pages and is being considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. It did not receive a vote before the summer recess.” Rumor has it that the Senate Finance Committee also has a bill, but as of this writing, it has not yet been made public.
HR3200 has received the most publicity as being the President’s “Health Care Reform Bill.” The versions passed by the House Health, Education and Labor Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee were similar but “addressed differing areas of the bill due to the differing jurisdictions of the committees.” The three House bills, differ significantly since they were passed by three different committees, with their own mark-ups. I have read through the 1,018 pages of HR 3200, but have not yet had a chance to read the Senate unnumbered bill with its 615 pages. (I wonder how many of our Federal Congressman have done so?)
So, what are all these bills attempting to do? If you would like to read some HHS propaganda, go to HealthReform.gov, click on the Utah link and find out how bad we are in Utah at governing our own affairs. Since we are doing so badly, the federal government has had to step in and mandate all employers to have either private insurance or government insurance. HR3200 sets up a private public advisory committee known as the Health Choices Committee, which determines coverage benefits and premiums plans (ie: what health care is covered and the price for such coverage.)
It is made up of the US Surgeon General and 18 other members appointed by the President. HR3200 mandates audits of all employers who are self-insured. The government panel will mandate the treatments and benefits you can obtain, even if you have private insurance, unless you can pay for it out of pocket. Unlike the present system, there is no appeal process. In other words, the Health Choices Committee will decide the health benefits for us; we will have no choices, none whatsoever. It will be decided by a federal bureaucracy.
Oh, by the way, all non-US citizens, whether illegal or not, will be provided free health care services under the bill. Don’t believe it? Look at page 50 of HR3200 and see for yourself. Oh, and did they forgot to tell you, every person will be issued a National ID Health Card (see page 58 of the bill). Those eligible for Medicaid (the “poor”) will automatically be enrolled in the new government health care plan. No choices, no state experimentation or efficiencies. This expanded coverage is partially financed by reductions in reimbursement rates to Medicare (the “elderly”) doctors, hospitals and clinics.
No longer would a person be able to sue for price fixing. Since there would no longer be judicial review, there is no remedy for the prices set by the federal government. Oh, and by the way, employers must pay health care bills for part-time employees and their families financed by an 8% tax on payroll for employers with $400,000.00 or more of payroll per month. If you are a smaller employer with a payroll less than $400,000.00 per month, you still have a 2 to 6% tax imposed on your payroll. (Incidentally, the bill requires posting signs “in the language of commonly encountered groups or groups presented in the service area of a health care organization” advising them to sign up for the government health plan if your employer does not have you covered under its plan (page 413).)
Finally, starting on page 424 of HR3200, Section 1233 entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation” requires that any individual who has not had a consultation within the last five years that qualifies, shall have their doctor explain to them regarding life-sustaining treatment or similar orders which shall include the reasons why the development of such an order is beneficial to the individual and the individual’s family. As the Daily Herald observed:
“Your reasons for living might be unacceptable to the government.”
Remember, the Congressional Budget Office Director, Douglas Elmendorf, concluded that the bills described above not only do not save money but would increase government spending on health care without reigning in health care costs. His statement: “The creation of a new subsidy for health insurance . . . would by itself raise federal spending on health care . . . . To offset [those costs], there would have to be a substantial increase in taxes or reduction [of programs] on the spending side of the ledger.” (Emphasis added)
As a reminder, the Congressional Budget Office analyzes the cost of legislation. Congress is not obligated to follow their estimates. And Federal Congressmen, Federal Senators and Federal Government employees do not have to be covered by this mess. They always exempt their taxpayer paid health-plans from these requirements.
Am I upset? Yes. Am I mad? Yes. Can we do anything about it? Yes. Our Congressman and Senators need to hear from us NOW, during the summer break, by email, by “snail-mail,” by phone and by attendance at town meetings. Don’t believe the propaganda aired by groups such as MoveOn.org Political Action Committee. Read the Bill for yourself. It is on-line now.
I have received many negative comments from students and parents about the recent reduction in the money available to fund the New Century Scholarship program. The education fund has been hit by the loss of state revenue, like most other state programs. Revenue from income taxes to the Education and Uniform School Funds dropped 21% from Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 to FY 2010. By our state constitution, public and higher education is funded with these income taxes. Yet, public and higher education budgets dropped only 10.5%. This is largely due to legislative efforts to cut in other areas and shift those savings into education.
We are facing a budget session this upcoming January where we expect to be at least $700.0 M short of balancing our budget. If we used all of the Rainy Day funds and the other $100.0 M of one-time money that we set aside several years ago for this reduction, we will still be about $200.0 M short (about another 4% cut) with nothing in reserve for the 2012 budget. I hear fairly consistently, from many different groups, that I should immediately access the Rainy Day fund for their program, with little thought of the many other demands that are out there that should all be considered in the final reallocation.
Regarding the New Century scholarships, the Legislature cut $172,000 from the New Century Scholarship program from FY 2009 to FY 2010. That's 8%.
On average, programs across the board were cut 12.5%.
Higher Education was cut 9%.
State government agencies, other than public and higher education, were cut by more than 16%.
Utah State Board of Regents estimates that it will cost an additional $1.5 million to fund all eligible New Century Scholarship students at 75% of tuition.
As I mentioned, the Legislature only cut $172,000 from the program from FY 2009 to FY 2010. The additional $1.3 million shortfall results from increasing demands on the program - i.e., more students. In FY 2008, 408 students received the award; in FY 2010, the projection is 695. Without any additional funding, a reduced amount of money now needs to be spread to a much larger group of students.
Now, I just threw out a bunch of numbers but to say that this reduction in funding is a slap in the face to the students is not a fair assessment. The bottom line is that we had to make cuts everywhere. We cut this program much less than most areas.
By Howard Stephenson Utah State Senator and Dr. Larry Shumway State Superintendent of Public Instruction
We recently read the latest Census Bureau re-port that shows Utah still ranks 51st in per pupil spending. The rankings elicit both positive and negative feelings. While we can be proud of efficiencies in Utah’s school systems, it’s discomforting to recognize our state spends nearly $4,000 less than the national average annually for each student in a Utah public school. We spend about $900 less than the next lowest state. The report rekindles debate around a persistent question, “Does the amount we spend in public education matter?”
We are two people who are often on opposite sides of political issues. In many ways, we see the world from very different perspectives. But here are some things we agree on when it comes to public education spending:
We agree that the metric of per pupil spending is not a particularly good measure of how money matters in education, nor are the rankings especially useful in comparing state by state educational performance. There are important variables among states that make per pupil spending an “apples to oranges” proposition. For example, Utah, with its highly consolidated school district organiza-tion—41 districts instead of hundreds—has extraordinary administrative efficiency when compared to states with lots of small school districts. And Utah’s concentration of student population in metropolitan areas results in additional savings. Moreover, our growing student population ensures efficiencies compared to states with declining enrollments where school boards find it politically difficult to close half empty buildings. These factors enable Utah to get a relatively bigger share of scarce resources into the classroom.
But we also agree on a fundamental principle: Money matters in public education. Anyone who has watched or participated in the appropriations process during a session of the Utah Legislature will understand how much it matters. A representative wants a program of arts specialists in schools—and seeks an appropriation. A senator would like to increase the availability of computers and instructional software in classrooms—and seeks an appropriation. The State Board of Education proposes a program to make counselors more readily available to high school students—and seeks an appropriation.
Clearly, money matters.
We agree that Utahns are getting a great return on their public education investment. Teachers, principals, superintendents, custodians, transportation workers, and others, are generally pedaling as fast as they can. We get, for our comparative spending, a solid program that produces solid re-sults. We agree we should always look for efficiencies, to eliminate waste, and to do better. And we agree that it is a mistake to think that money doesn’t matter.
Mostly, we agree that disagreements over how we talk about our problems far too often get in the way of actually FINDING SOLUTIONS TO OUR PROBLEMS. We agree that the discussion should not be whether we spend more or less than other states; rather the discussion must focus on what we want for Utah kids in the classroom, how we will go about getting it, and what resources are re-quired to accomplish that. And we agree to work toward that end with respect, civility, and honesty.
This blog post was originally published in the August newsletter of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Howard Stephenson is President of Utah Taxpayers Association and Utah State Senate Chair of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. He represents District 11 which includes Alpine, Bluffdale, Highland, Riverton, and parts of Draper, Herriman, and Lehi.
Dr. Larry Shumway is the newly appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has thirty years experience in education as a teacher, principal, and district superintendent.
Anyone who meets state Sen. Greg Bell is immediately struck by his affable nature, his intellect and his knack for bringing people together.
It sounds like the perfect mix of attributes for Utah's next lieutenant governor, doesn't it?
On Wednesday morning, incoming Gov. Gary Herbert named Bell, the Senate assistant majority whip, as his choice for lieutenant governor. If the U.S. Senate confirms Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to China this week, Herbert could be sworn in as governor as soon as Tuesday, Aug. 11. Once he takes office, Herbert can officially nominate Bell as lieutenant governor. Bell's selection must be confirmed by the Utah Senate, but it is largely a formality because he enjoys broad support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Bell, who has been at the forefront of legislative ethics reform efforts, was elected to the Utah Senate in 2002. A lawyer and a real estate developer, Bell is recognized as one of Utah's premier real estate attorneys. He also served as the mayor of Farmington for eight years, as a Farmington city councilman for four years and was chairman of Envision Utah, a well-respected land use and transportation planning organization.
Herbert said he chose Bell because he complements his strengths. As Herbert put it, "I'm not looking for someone who is a clone of myself."
Bell, who resides in Fruit Heights, is considered a moderate Republican. The conservative Eagle Forum pressured Herbert to select someone other than Bell over concerns about his support of benefits for gay and other nontraditional couples. Bell backed Amendment 3, which banned gay marriage in Utah. He does not support civil unions.
In some respects, Herbert's selection of Bell sent a message to the far-right wing of the Republican party that the Herbert-Bell administration would serve all Utahns rather than bend to special interests. One lawmaker went so far as to suggest that the Eagle Forum's active opposition of Bell may have sealed his selection.
The pick was made, of course, with an eye on the 2010 election, during which Bell plans to run with Herbert. Herbert enjoys considerable support among conservatives, and Bell would garner more support among moderate Republicans and, possibly, Democrats.
More important, Herbert's selection of Bell demonstrates how Herbert recognizes that many public policy issues are complex in nature, and that reasonable and thoughtful public servants can bring different approaches and considerations to the table. That serves the public best.
Bell is a fine choice for Utah's next lieutenant governor. We congratulate Herbert for selecting such a sage and capable solon for this very important position and look forward to having two fine statesmen at the helm of the Beehive State.
When Governor Huntsman announced he would be leaving his post, I noticed an additional security presence watching after the Lt. Governor. It made sense. I thought it was appropriate for his new role as acting governor. It's my understanding that was done at the UHP's insistence and not at the LG's request.
At the time, I called the governor's staff to encourage the added security to continue.
Today, apparently, the AP found a piece of the Utah Code of which I was previously unaware. It says Executive Protection will be given to the governor and his immediate family. Security can be extended to others but must be renewed every 15 days by a majority vote of three people: the Commissioner, the Speaker, and me. That makes sense too - it's a good check-and-balance to ensure executive power is not abused.
I think the UHP acted with common sense and in good faith. Obviously, we need to comply with the law and should have done a formal authorization. Had we done so, I would have voted to approve it, and I'm sure the Speaker would have done the same. We did vote our approval today, as soon as the requirement came to our attention. Thanks to the person to caught that citation - it helps to have many eyes.
"My philosophy of government: Government can't be all things for all people; we collectively can't afford it. It needs to deal with those necessary things that benefit the largest majority of citizens that can't economically be done individually. For every benefit government provides someone pays and we should remember that when we ask for any benefit. Special interest groups should be listened to, but in context of size of citizens affected at what cost to others."
This past weekend, I saw an opinion piece in the Deseret News by my good friend Don Gale urging that the legislature reconsider its action and restore the funding for the University of Utah medical school. My first response is that the legislature did not cut the medical school's funding. The explanation is a little complicated, but important nonetheless. It was reported to me by the University that the U of U medical school used to draw down federal Medicaid money for medical education. It did so for about eight years until Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported to the Department of Health that medical education no longer qualified. So the U of U medical school lost 30% of its total funding (on top of the 9% state cut). They requested $10.0 M, not to "restore funding" cut by the state but rather to fill-in for lost federal money. The second problem was that if the U of U medical school was cut (which was being proposed for all Higher Education because of the reduction in revenue), their only choice was to reduce the student body by 20 students beginning the fall of 2010. At that time, it was not clear exactly what the cuts would be and what could be back-filled with one-time money, principally from the rainy day funds.
As the session came to an end and we could see that the base cut to Higher Education would be 15% but reduced to 9% with the one-time back fill, I was again approached by the U medical school leaders. At that time, we absolutely did not have the $10.0 M in additional on-going funding to restore their federal funding, unless we took it out of other areas of Higher Education. The actions we took the week before to fund the growth in Public Education at last year’s funding level had caused a huge strain on the budget. To do it again across the board to every other state program just to hold the medical school harmless would have been very ugly, especially with on-going funding.
We granted the requests from all of the institutions to allow them the flexibility to make the cuts individually, because they should know which programs could be reduced. For example, Utah State University chose to adopt a 5-day furlough (the only institution in the state to do it) as one of their ways to meet the shortfall. If the medical school did not like the reductions made by their own institution, they should address the problem in-house. If they want the legislature to solve it, we must do it by making budget cuts to other programs at the U to free up this funding to give to the medical school.
Again, the simple answer to the question that began these remarks is that the legislature did not cut the medical school funding. We did what we could for all of Higher Education to cope with the reduction in tax revenue. We allowed each school to address these reductions in the best way they saw fit. I noted that the U raised their tuition more than any other school as one way to reduce the hurt. If they believed that reducing the funding for the medical school was the less of many evils with budget shortfalls, the legislature must respect that decision. I am sure that each school could point out the negative impacts of the reductions they suffered.
I heard from people at USU that some top people were threatening to leave because of the furloughs. Should the legislature raise taxes to save all of them? I thought we had done a very good job in taking a 15% reduction in tax revenue and reducing the cut to an effective 9%. Things may get worse before they get better. The 2011 budget will cause us a struggle next session. It cannot be solved by a cigarette or alcohol tax increase either.
I am open to suggested areas of budget reductions at the University of Utah that would free up money to avoid the reduction in enrollment at the medical school or alternatives to reducing the enrollment.