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Day 12 of 45: Week 2 Wrap-Up

February 4, 2012

Here is the update from week 2 of this year’s legislative session:

There are so many important issues to consider and discuss. Sometimes, at first glance, some of the issues seem irrelevant or redundant, but I have learned that every issue that is presented to the process is important to someone. I have also learned to trust the system. Bad bills usually die. And the rest will be debated, with votes reflecting what each legislator deems best for the majority of his constituent’s, which translates to what will be best for the majority of the state.

As you know Utah has a part time legislature. That means that after the session, I will return to my day job and have to live under the laws that we created. This is the way government should be run—as small and local as possible. There is a direct correlation between the length of a state’s legislative session and its overall financial well-being. You can draw your own conclusions from that, but I think it is a reflection of keeping government small and elected representatives close to the people.

We worked a lot on the budgets this week. The appropriations committees met almost every day. Education, transportation infrastructure, alternative energy, caring for the poor and vulnerable are all the responsibility of the state and we must decide how to fund each of these important areas.

Over half of the state budget (including 100% of our state income tax) goes to public education. Percentage wise that is a lot, in fact we spend a greater percentage of our available income on education than almost any other state in the nation. But that does reflect the fact that educating our children is our top priority.

You have tasked me to make decisions that will spend the state’s money in the most efficient way possible. With that need in mind, we worked on the base budgets this week. Here is an explanation from Senator Van Tassell, the appropriations vice-chair, on how base budgets are used: http://www.senatesite.com/home/basebudgets201/

Each bill that requires an appropriation of money has a fiscal note attached to it. This note tells how much it will cost to implement the proposal in the bill if it is passed. Those notes help us evaluate an idea by giving it a price tag. Requiring a fiscal note helps the legislature allocate efficiently. (Fiscal notes are printed on green paper—like money.) Most states do not require a fiscal note. Amazing! How can you spend tax money responsibly if you don’t even know what the implementing or ongoing costs will be?

Each bill that has a fiscal note also carries a performance note. The performance note will be attached to any bill that significantly increases funding to a new agency; provides a new service or benefit; or serves a new or larger population. Analysts do not write these performance notes, they are written by the agency that will be receiving the funds and/or the sponsor who requested the legislation. Questions are answered relating to the purpose and duties of the new program, services provided, implementation and expected outcome for public benefit. If the bill becomes law, the Legislative Auditor General reviews the new agency or program for several years and the findings are reported to legislative committees, giving the public additional transparency in how their money is being put to use.

This additional information from the performance notes will help us be even more informed and transparent in the allocation decisions we make and will make it easier to hold agencies accountable for the tax funds they receive and spend.

We have heard a lot of bills this week. My bill, SB 138, created quite a stir. I have put it on hold while some important negotiations are underway. You can watch a news clip about it here: http://www.fox13now.com/news/politics/local/kstu-some-in-autism-community-opposed-to-health-care-mandate-bill-20120201,0,328460.story

There has been a bit of ruckus made over SB 112 concerning taxes on cable television. Here is a clarifying explanation from Senator Neiderhauser: http://www.senatesite.com/home/sb112/

DABC update: The last three audits of the Department of Alcohol have all pointed to a need to restructure the department. This week there were continued negotiations between the Senate, House and Governor’s office on what that restructuring should include. Utah has been a control state since 1923. Maintaining that tradition is important, but using best practices is the goal for the issues we are facing this session. The negotiations appear to be moving towards a successful set of compromises. We hope too that Senator Valentine will soon be able to commence drafting a bill that will recognize these compromises and give strength to the newly reformed Department of Alcohol Control.

This year the legislature is perusing several bills this year that honor and support our veterans. SB 105, http://le.utah.gov/~2012/bills/sbillint/sb0105.htm, sets aside a day that will pay tribute to soldiers and law officers who die in the line of duty. Other bills would, in certain circumstances, allow a veteran’s spouses to collect unemployment, temporarily waive property taxes, help veterans pay for higher education and incentivize businesses to hire veterans. I am pleased that Utah finds ways to honor those who willingly defend our laws and freedoms.

Here I am getting my blood pressure checked in the Rotunda by a SLCC student.

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Afterward, I got my picture with the whole group.

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One Comment
  1. Todd Duff permalink

    Given the makeup of your district I would hope that you are signing on as a co-sponsor to all of the veterans related bills since most of them have to do with post 9/11 GI’s who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. These bills are long overdue Todd. It is my understanding that you may have to “cross the aisle” on some of them but you are an intelligent man. I shouldn’t need to tell you that it is not about party affiliation, Republicans have won that battle with voters, it is about our men and women in uniform who served to protect the liberty and freedom of this nation like myself. You should be advocating pretty hard for them. Be the voice in the caucus that stands up for the right thing once in a while instead of doing the politically expedient thing. Spend some time with Lyle Hillyard or Stuart Reid. They have been around long enough, and know that being a real statesman sometimes means doing the unpopular thing but may in fact be the right thing to do.

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