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Day 34: Week 5 In Review

February 25, 2012

The completion of the fifth week is bringing the budget numbers into clearer perspective. The good news is the revenues have not dropped, but the bad news is that they have not increased very much. Here is an explanation from Senator Lyle Hillyard, the Executive Appropriations chair, on what the numbers will actually look like.

The budgeting process is very methodical. We begin with seven separate committees made up of members from both houses who meet regularly for the first month and listen to public testimony regarding the needs from those who fall within their budget jurisdiction. After many, many hours of public meetings, the committee members, through an open voting process, make a list of expenditure recommendations.

After that process has been completed and the revenue numbers are in, all the priority lists are sent to the executive appropriations committee and the refining continues. The priorities list always exceed the available amount and it is the job of the Senators and Representatives on the executive appropriations committee to whittle down the lists so they match the available expenditures.

There are the obvious financial priorities of education (over half of the budget is spent there), social services, the justice system, higher education, and natural resources. Additionally there are critical ongoing funding needs for transportation infrastructure and building maintenance (roads and buildings are expensive to maintain but even more expensive to re-build). And then there are numerous special funding requests for everything from historic foundations and libraries to theaters and the planetarium. The question that first the sub-committees and then the executive appropriations committee must answer is a matter of appropriate appropriation; what is the best and most prudent use of your taxpayer dollar? This allocation process is something that I take very seriously.

Here is a brief overview of this week’s work and floor activities:

On Tuesday, a slate of bills dealing with Utah public lands were discussed in the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. There are two resolutions and two bills that work together giving the federal government a deadline to return the federally held lands in Utah to state control. Governor Herbert, The Utah Association of Counties, Utah School Boards Association, and the Utah Farm Bureau support the set of bills and the Attorney General’s office will defend them. The federal government owns and controls 60 percent of Utah land. Controlling those lands means controlling the use and therefore the funds generated from those lands. There are many states struggling with this problem.

Also on Tuesday we heard from Congressman Matheson and passed a resolution to strengthen the bonds between Israel and Utah.

On Wednesday Senator Mike Lee addressed us and we honored some outstanding art students and Ogden’s fallen officers. Utah’s fallen solders were honored on Thursday and Congressman Bishop spoke to us. On Friday we had a report from Senator Hatch.

It was busy on the floor this week. We met twice each day to discuss and debate bills. This is the process that the bills follow:

First the bill is introduced on the floor. That is called the “first read” and it is nothing more than introducing the bill by reading the title and the sponsor.

Then the bill is sent to the rules committee. That committee assigns the bill to an appropriate standing committee where its sponsor presents it and testimony is taken either for or against the bill. Anyone can participate and speak to the bill in the committee. If the bill passes with a favorable vote out of the committee it is returned to the floor and placed on the “second reading calendar” for its “second read.”

At this point, the bill is debated on the floor. If it passes this vote it is advanced to the “third reading calendar” for a final vote. If this vote is successful, it is passed to the other body where the entire process is repeated. Occasionally, amendments to the bill are made when it is on the non-originating body, if that happens, the bill must be returned to the floor where it originated, so that the changes can be discussed and voted on, but when the bill is returned to its original floor it is sent directly to the third reading calendar. Once the bill has passed successfully off of both floors it is sent to the governor for his consideration.

It is a long process, but it ensures that each idea is carefully considered and vetted.

This week, several of my bills passed committee and the third reading calendars.

The Utah Senate has 5 full time and one part time staffer. During the session we hire security, pages and committee secretaries. Also, each legislator is assigned an intern. The interns come from various universities across the state. They are invaluable. My intern, Katie, comes from Colorado and is a sophomore at the University of Utah.

Here is a video with comments from some of this year’s interns.

The amount of time and money spent on something is a good indicator of urgency and importance. Education is top on both fronts for legislators during the session.

Creating a preferred drug list is a way to help curtail costs and fund needs.

I appreciate your input and thoughts on any issue.

You can contact me at 801-599-9823 or at tweiler@utahsenate.org

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