November 2012 Interim
We met in November for our final interim committee meetings of the year. Here are the highlights:
-The Administrative Rules Review Committee heard a discussion on necessary changes for food handlers permits and the need to more specifically define the terms “abuse” and “neglect” in the state’s rules and statutes.
-Business and Labor approved draft legislation dealing with the licensure requirements of someone who braids hair professionally. This has been an issue in several states for the last few years. They also discussed draft legislation that will deal with creating master licenses for restaurants that would like to serve alcohol.
-The Government Operations Committee approved seven pieces of draft legislation as committee bills, five of which dealt with elections or campaigns.
-The Health and Human Services committee listened to a very interesting report on the relationship between physical activity and the academic performance of children in school and how it relates to the obesity epidemic. You might enjoy listening to it as well. Here is the link: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2024
The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee held an extensive discussion on capital punishment in Utah. The legislators heard a report from the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst comparing the costs of imposing the death penalty compared to life in prison. Here is a link to that discussion: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2019
The Retirement and Independent Entities Committee dealt with several issues regarding coverage and benefits of public employees for the state.
Revenue and Taxation approved a committee bill called “Cigarette and Tobacco Tax and Licensing Amendments” that will address the licensing of cigarette and tobacco products to be discussed and debated during the upcoming session.
The Transportation Committee approved four committee bills, one of which will create a special license plate that will say, “In God We Trust.” This idea was brought to the legislature by a young man who noticed that 12 other states have a license plate option that says “In God We Trust” and he wondered why Utah did not. This is a great example of how anyone can bring up an issue to be addressed by the legislature. Here is a link to the testimony that was given to the committee:
In order for the license plate to become an option, 500 people need to commit to purchasing the special license plate and then the legislature as a whole must approve it. So far about 100 people have said that they would purchase the plate. If you would like to see the design it is here:
So far, the interim committees have approved just over 70 bills for the legislative session. If a committee approves a bill during interim, it will generally go straight to the floor, skipping the committee process during the legislative session. The vetting process that the “pre-approved” bills is the same as those that go through the committees during the regular session, but having those bills ready to go the first few days of session helps us get a running start to a hectic 45 days.
During the session, there are many many important issues that we discuss, but by far the most important job of the legislature is the allocation of the budget. As you are already aware, this year’s budget discussion will have many challenges because there are still so many unknowns. We do not know what will be decided in Washington or how those decisions will affect us. Predictions are grim no matter what they decide. If the sequestration is allowed to happen and the spending cuts take place, our state budgets will be affected. If some agreement is not reached and the debt reduction measures are essentially postponed, economist say that there could be extreme financial consequences within a few years.
You are also probably aware, that in spite of all the recent economic problems, Utah is doing better financially than most other states. Utah’s financial stability is not necessarily due to our Constitutional requirement to balance the budget each year. Forty-eight other states actually have that requirement in their Constitutions. But many of those states have found ways to work around that requirement. Utah’s level of fiscal stability comes from the legislature making responsible, informed decisions and the fact that we fund realistic budgets with the money we have available.
The only way the Legislature has money to spend on anything is if that money is taken from us as citizens in the form of some tax. It is always interesting to me how many times I hear, “The Legislature needs to spend more money on…” But I don’t hear, “The Legislature should raise taxes so that they can spend more on…” People seem to forget that first part about where the money actually comes from.
The majority of the Utah Legislature is not of a tax-raising mindset. Occasionally, as may need to be discussed this year, the incoming tax revenue is simply not high enough to cover the existing needs of the state. In that situation, the choices are simple: eliminate and/or reduce existing programs and/or increase taxes. Over the past few years, departments have been asked to cut and trim internally so that budget dollars can stretch and for the most part they have done a good job. But our state’s needs continue to increase, our school populations are growing and federal requirements are creating more of a strain. All of these elements add up to the possibility of increasing taxes.
How Utah will handle the new healthcare requirements is another upcoming issue that will affect state funds and policy on several levels.
The federal government has promised the States information about how the Affordable Care Act Exchange (Obamacare) will operate and how it will be funded. But we have not been given that information yet. Even without that important decision-making information, States have been given deadlines to make a choice. They can create their own exchanges, where they are allowed to manage a very small portion of the program or they can simply participate in the insurance exchange created by the federal government.
Regardless of which option a state chooses, federal approval must be obtained and by January 2015, each state must bear all operating expenses.
If it were possible, preserving state control and running our own independent insurance program would be a top priority, but that is no longer an option.
It does not seem prudent for Utah to allocate our precious state tax dollars to help create a massive federal program that does not reflect Utah’s health reform initiatives. The funding and resources needed to develop this federal program should not be borne by Utah’s citizens.
I will keep an open mind as we receive more information and the discussion continues, but at this point it seems the most practical and economical solution is to let the federal government be in charge of funding the creation and implementation of their own program.
Here are a few other noteworthy items of interest:
Earlier this month the Governor’s Office of Economic Development approved tax incentives for two more movies to be filmed in Utah. Encouraging filming in the state brings millions of dollars to the state.
Both ballot initiatives passed in Utah.
Amendment A will require that we add a larger portion of the severance taxes that are collected into a state trust fund. Choices like this are what has made it possible for us to balance our budget in the recent economic crisis without tax increases or deep cuts. I am proud that Utah voted to put this measure into place.
Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Inc., ranked Utah as the number one Pro-Business State for 2012.
Utah was recently ranked as one the best states for businesses by the Tax Foundation. The Tax Foundation is a national organization founded in 1937 that looks for sound tax principles and policies in state and federal government.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, for the fifth year in a row, ranked Utah as #1 for Expected Economic Recover and Economic Outlook.
We were ranked by the Corporation for National and Communication Service, for the second year in a row, as first in the nation for Volunteerism in America.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Utah as second in the nation for job growth and CNBC gave us the overall number two ranking for Top States for Business and placed us at sixth in the nation for cost of living.
The CNBC report was interesting. As usual, Utah ranked near the bottom of the list for education, however, if you look at the list, states who ranked high in education seemed to have a direct inverse as to their ranking for cost of living.
The states who ranked high in education, rank nearly at the bottom of the scale for cost of living and ranked middle to low for economic well-being. It is an interesting thing to consider as cost of living is generally tied closely to a state’s taxing rate.
Another of Utah’s accolades was third place in the 2012 Best of the Web Awards from Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government. We won on points for design and ease of navigation and the amount of information available online. Here is a link to the new site:
Please note that at the bottom of each page is a place for you to comment on the page and give feedback or suggestions. I hope you will take advantage of this great research source for our state government.
Also, we elected new leadership for the Senate in November. Here is some information on the results of the election: http://www.senatesite.com/home/leadership/