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Interim Day – May 16, 2012

May 29, 2012

The Legislature met last on May 16 for interim meetings. Here is a brief overview of some of the things that were discussed in those meetings.

The Executive Appropriations Committee heard reports on our existing federal grants, a budget review from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s Office, a report on the state retirement system and budget highlights from this year’s general session. After covering the structural deficit, we had $450 million in revenue to appropriate. Most of the new money the State had to spend went to public and higher education, Medicaid and CHIP. The State retirement fund is recovering and should be able to meet its obligations to state employees thanks to preemptive legislation that we passed several years ago.

The Business and Labor Committee looked at possible items that they would study for the 2012 interim meetings and discussed quotas for alcohol licenses to restaurants.

HB28 was passed last session and established an Economic Development Task Force to examine the overall state of the economy in Utah and coordinate the many different organizations in the state that will help our economy grow and create a friendly environment for jobs. The committee will be chaired by Senator Reid and Representative Brad Wilson. A report as to the duties and plans for the task force was given to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

The Education committee discussed the calculation mistake made by the Utah Department of Education when they estimated the number of students for the 2012-13 school year. The miscalculation resulted in an underfunding of approximately $25 million to the public school system budget. The committee discussed options on how to address that budget problem. The money is available and will come from funds that had been set aside for unexpected problems, but a special session of the legislature will need to be called to approve the transfer. The date for that session has yet to be determined.

Government Operations heard recommendations from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office regarding suggested adjustments in the election laws.  In the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee, a proposal was made by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to allow license plate readers to scan every car that passes through I-15 in Beaver and Washington county. The scanners would alert police when a known drug trafficker enters the state on that road.

Political Subdivisions considered the need to study the definition of the term “rural” within Utah code. Because the term is used so many times and in so many different contexts, the committee needs to create a consensual definition that can be used to guide programs and write consistent legislation. This process is expected to take most of the interim to complete.

Revenue and Taxation heard reports and took public comment on tax credits and exemptions, telecommunication taxes and fees, the taxation of hotel intermediaries, and dynamic vs. static fiscal notes. Currently when a proposed piece of legislation will cost money, the fiscal analysts office determines how much that cost will be. That fiscal note is added to the bill so everyone knows what it will cost if the bill is passed. That computation is made using  “static” calculation measures, which means the suppositions used assume that everything else surrounding those cost implementations will remain the same. There are no considerations for opportunity costs or any indirect costs or benefits that might be incurred. If a “dynamic” fiscal note system were used, the financial assessment of the proposed bill would look at other factors that may be impacted if it passed. For instance, the fiscal note would indicate things like the possibility of businesses moving into or out of the state or long- and short-term economic impact. The committee is discussing if it would be beneficial to consider using dynamic fiscal note calculations instead of the current static assessments. This discussion too, will continue through the next few months.

The Transportation committee heard a report from the Utah Department of Transportation on the challenges Utah will soon be facing because of federal requirements for highway projects. The new requirements state that only steel and iron that is produced in the United States can be used in highway projects that have federal funding. Randy Park, who testified for UDOT explained that this applies to items as small as nails and screws as well as poles, wire, pipes and rebar. If all of theses items used in the project do not meet the production requirements, federal funds could be pulled from the project. This is a national problem that has the potential of significantly raising costs and creating long delays in highway construction projects.

The Public Utilities and Technology committee heard from Stephen Fletcher, the former director of the state’s Department of Technology Services. Mr. Fletcher was asked to resign the day prior to his testimony due to last month’s health data breach. Mr. Fletcher took full responsibility for the incident, but also expressed the need for the state to have adequate resources to combat the ever-increasing cyber attacks. He testified that in the last four months there has been a 600% increase in the number of attempted attacks on state data systems.

If you would like to listen to any of these committee meetings or look at other agenda items, you can do it on the legislature¹s web site at http://le.utah.gov/committees.jsp

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From → 2012 Interim

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