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Labor Day Update

September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day. Here is my end of the summer update.

During the month of August, we didn’t hold any interim committee meetings but a few sub-appropriations committees met.

The Appropriations Subcommittee for Higher Education met on August 21. They heard reports from UCAT (Utah College of Applied Technology) on how they are using their funds and the efficiencies achieved at their campuses.

They also had a report on how the performance based funding ($1 million) is working at Utah universities. Here is a link to the recording of the meeting:

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met all day on August 28th. They discussed among other things, salaries for math and science teachers; the results of professional development for educators in Utah; and a presentation on the successes of the dual language program.

Here is a post from the senate blog by President Niederhauser about the new school grading system:

And here is a website that can help you find grading information on your school and answer questions about the grading procedure and how it will help children in Utah:

Last month, the Pew Charitable Trusts and MacArthur Foundation released a 50-state (and DC) study examining how states use Cost-Benefit Analysis in policymaking. It found that “Ten states–Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin–were among the leaders in at least two of the rating criteria, making them national leaders on the use of cost-benefit analysis in policymaking.”

Pew and MacArthur postulate that the use of cost benefit research improves results for taxpayers and increases government’s cost-effectiveness. I am also grateful that we live in a state where the legislature is expected to make methodical decisions rather than just quick-fix reactions.

You can see the Pew study here:

Keeping in line with that cost-benefit practice, the Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office met this month. The main responsibility of this office is to coordinate the state’s interests on public lands issues and ensure that state and local interests are considered in the management of public lands. The topic of this particular meeting was to discuss if Utah can afford to take ownership of its public lands.

In 2011, we passed legislation that requires the federal government to return control of federal land to the state’s care. The purpose of the meeting was to gather data on the impact that such a change might have.

The state will collect data and testimony so that the office can run different scenarios as to what could happen if the state does or does not take control of the land. Currently the federal government owns and controls over 67% of the land in Utah.

There are some who say that the land has not been well managed by the federal government and that the state could do it better. Others opine that the state does not have the funds or incentives to manage the land and that historically other states have not managed such lands well. HB 142 required the study to look at cost-benefit analysis on the potential expenditures and revenue from controlling the land.

Here is a map that shows federal land ownership in Utah. It is a bit shocking to see just exactly how much of our state we have no control over.

And here is an article from Forbes magazine written by a Government Accountability Office auditor with information on how a transfer of the land back to Utah could affect our economy:

The Economic Development Commission met and discussed transportation, water and energy infrastructure. Transportation, education and healthcare consume the bulk of our state expenditures. It is difficult to balance out the needs and allotted expenditures of these three areas. Discussions are constantly taking place as to the best way to increase funding to each of these key needs without harming the other’s budgets. We need to grow the economy to increase education funds and we can’t grow business unless we have the infrastructure to support it. Sometimes it feels like a “chicken and egg” question.

Our past planning (and cost-benefit practice) hascontributed greatly to our economic success. But continued discussion and new solutions will be critical to maintaining successful growth. Part of this discussion involves the question of an increased gas tax in Utah.

Currently our gas tax is at about the national average–24%. The last gas tax increase in Utah was in 1997. There are some who believe that an increased tax would be beneficial but others who argue that such a tax will hurt our quality of life. There are other options to more transportation funding, like toll roads and an increased use of alternative fuels.

Senator Adams shares his vision for transportation in Utah here:

The Communications Task Force had a presentation on the new federal requirements and changes to the 911 program.

An update on new changes from the federal government to the Affordable Care Act and how Utah is implementing the program was given at the health Systems Reform Task Force. Our lifestyle practices in Utah have given us lower rates than many other states, however, our rates will probably increase with the new mandates from ACA laws.

The archived recording of the discussion can be heard here:

The F-16 is out, but the F-35 is on its way in. Utah’s HAFB will soon be a key player in the production and maintenance of the most advanced and most expensive fighter jets ever made. Having the F-35 program here will increase the current $80-plus million put into the state’s economy from HAFB through over 1000 jobs.

The fire season still has a few more weeks before it is officially over but so far this year has been nothing compared to last year. This is true for the rest of the nation as well. Last year 9.3 million acres were burned across the United States. This year 3 million acres have been affected by fire.

Last year in Utah, we spent $13 million to pay for fire suppression and then another $8 million was spent to restore and reseed the burned land. So far this year we have spent about $3.9 million. There are disagreements as to how preventable these fires are. Some argue that much of the fire problem in the state is due to policy conflicts between the way the federal and state governments manage the land.

The Senate is requesting comments from the public on a judicial nominee appointment. Ms. Catherine S. Conklin was recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the Second District Court bench. If you would like to comment on Ms. Conklin’s ability to serve, please contact Mike Christensen at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. The address is Utah State Capitol Campus, House building, Suite W210, P.O. Box 145210, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-5210. Comments need to be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday, September 30, 2013. Please include your name, telephone number and mailing address with any comments you submit.

A new report on ACT test indicates that nationally only 26% of students met passing benchmarks in all four areas of the test. However, Utah students test’s scores ranked the highest in the nation. These high scores could easily be a result of a two-year pilot program that funded a prep classes and the administration of the ACT exam to Utah students. Earlier this year we passed SB 175, which changesthe pilot to a fully-funded program across the state.

Utah has long recognized the importance of high school students taking and doing well on this exam and our effort to make this an educational funding priority is paying off.

I travelled to Atlanta, Georgia last month to participate in the National Conference of State Legislators. NCSL is a non-partisan organization that provides state legislators with a forum to exchange ideas, and discuss solutions to state problems. Some of the issues discussed this year include taxation, transportation, healthcare/ACA implementation and energy sources. Here is a link to the NCSL website.

Senator Stuart Reid recently spoke out against congressional delinquency:

I helped honor Landon Cooper for completing a 3,000 mile run to raise awareness for sarcoma cancer.

Every Thursday morning at 8 a.m., Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser is hosting an on-air legislative update.
If you would like to listen and even join in the discussion you can listen at KHQN 1480 AM Utah Talk Radio. The live streaming is here or

July Interim

The Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee held our annual meeting away from the capitol. We met in Tremonton and toured the Bear River Health Department.

The Communications Task Force also met early in the month. They discussed 911 fees and other telephone service fees and compared our fees to other state’s fees.

We are now seeing the effect of some of the bills passed during the legislative session. For example, SB 284 provided funding to allow more schools to participate in the Smart School Technology program. Schools that have already benefited from the program have seen significant improvements in student engagement and achievement advances. Here is an example of what this program is doing for children in our schools.

A change in the speed limit in some parts of the state is another example. Utah is one of several states implementing higher speed limits.

Executive Appropriations Committee discussed the implementation status of allocations made to different agencies in the state. They looked at the accuracy of initial estimates and how those estimates compare to actual usage.

Here is a link to the report: it is very interesting and thorough.

The Commission on Federalism met for the first time. The purpose of this commission is to study and discuss state powers and identify areas where those powers have eroded over time and then report their findings back to the Legislature. They heard a presentation from Congressman Rob Bishop about the need for states to act in order to retain the important powers that were granted to them in the Constitution. The commission will work with other states in determining where states rights have been ignored and then appeal to Congress to address those issues.

Another issue they will be addressing is Utah’s dependence on federal funds. Currently just over 1/3 of our operating budget comes from federal funds—the majority of that going to Education, the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality. The question the commission will try to determine is, how much federal funding is too much?

As Rep. Bishop pointed out, when you accept federal money there are strings attached and as President Niederhauser commented, “If we want to be a sovereign we have to act like one.”

Here is a link to a recent report of how much funding each state receives from federal sources.

Here is a link to more information and audio of the commission’s meeting:

Here is a link to an explanation of the impeachment legislation we passed that during the July special session:

and here is a link some information on the people the Senate confirmed to work on various Boards and Commissions:

Business and Labor met to discuss the transfer of alcohol retail licenses and the slight alterations that will be necessary to our laws to allow for the possibility of private investigators and attorneys from out of state to work on the investigations the House will be conducting on Attorney General John Swallow.

These are very small alterations and allow the state to hire people who are not close to the situation. An explanation of those necessary changes is here:

and here is an update on who has been hired to conduct the investigation:

The Education Committee listened to a panel of ten teachers who described what the legislature could best do to help them in their efforts to increase student achievement. Some of those ideas included extending the school day or year for students who need more time to learn; reduce the time spent on administering standardized tests; and not to dictate solutions, but hold schools and teachers accountable for education growth results.

In the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee the Governor’s Office of Economic Development discussed with legislative members the key elements for the economic success of Utah businesses.

Here is a link to the PowerPoint they presented:

and here is another PowerPoint describing economic pressure points that impact growth in our state:

An explanation about generic and brand-name drugs on the state’s Medicaid preferred drug list as well as a discussion about the possibility of appropriations to improve the availability of treatment services for people with Alzheimer’s disease was discussed in the Health and Human Services Committee.

The state property ombudsman has been meeting with a group of stakeholders concerning questions about eminent domain. The results of those meetings were discussed in the Political Subdivisions Committee.

June Interim

Along with a discussion on the soon to be implemented school grading program, the Education Committee also discussed possible legislation that would establish a “front-line teacher data program” and had a discussion on the types of data available in the statewide longitudinal data system.

The Judiciary Committee discussed administrative subpoenas. Here are some thoughts from Senator Madsen on the matter.

Government Operations had six agenda items that dealt with elections and they also discussed whether Utah should create a statewide ombudsman as some other states have done.

The Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee were given a report from the Department of Environmental Quality on federal funding cuts that affect the state’s Division of Drinking Water and the Division of Air Quality and how those cuts will affect the state’s plans.

County and city representatives gave a presentation to the Transportation Committee about the current condition of their roads and needed improvements.

The Executive Appropriation Committee heard a report on the cost of Medicaid expansion in Utah. Here is a link to the handouts from the cost/benefit analysis of the different scenarios we are considering:

and here is a link if you want to hear the presentation and discussion about the information:

The committee did get some good news about the budget. The report from legislative economists says that there will probably be a surplus of between $135 and $195 million dollars this year. The report also said that we have made up for the jobs lost during the recession and expect about 42,000 new jobs in the coming year. The projected economic growth for the 2013-year is 3.4 percent and in 2014 it is expected to be about 3.6 percent. Here is a link to the revenue update:

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says that Utah’s gross domestic product for the year (the total value of all goods and services produced) increased by 3.4%–putting us at sixth in the nation. Companies are moving to Utah and existing Utah companies are expanding because of our standard of living, a great workforce and a business friendly environment.

There are many examples of new and growing Utah companies. eBay’s new 240,000 square foot building in Draper; Adobe; HireVue located in South Jordan has announced that they will create 540 new jobs over the next year and MasterControl will add another 200 jobs.

Another economic victory for the state is the news that the Air Force will consolidate all the maintenance work for the F-22 Raptor to Hill Air Force Base. This will bring nearly 200 new high-paying jobs to Utah.

Salt Lake City was just ranked #8 in the nation for sustainability. They were selected and ranked because of legislative initiatives and long-term plans for improvement.

Here is an article that exposes one of Utah’s real success secrets. A contributing factor that is really not surprising if you think about it.

And here are some thoughts from Senate President Wayne Niederhauser on why our economic advantages continue.

As we move though the interim season, several of the newly created boards and committees have begun to meet and do their assigned work.

The Governor has announced the appointments to the Prison Relocation and Develop Authority (PRADA). He selected a diverse and independent group of well-qualified Utahans who will help ensure that any proposal to move the prison is examined thoroughly and is in the best interest of Utah and the taxpayer.

At the end of April 2013, Utah’s prison population was 7,012. In December of 2012 there were 6,948 inmates. The current prison facilities have an operational capacity of 7,030. As you can see, decisions need to be made regarding either prison relocation or expansion. Here is a link to the Governor’s list of appointees:

and here is and a link to their first meeting agenda and minutes:

The Intergernerational Poverty Advisory Committee met for the first time on June 17th. This committee was created by SB53 and tasked to create a more coordinated data driven approach to ending the poverty cycle in Utah. They must create and use measurable goals and benchmarks and report their findings back to the governor, Legislative Management Committee and the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. Here is a link to the code referencing the responsibilities and make-up of the committee:

The Federal Funds Commission met again. This month they were given information on the federal funds received in Utah. The overall goal of this committee is to develop a prudent fiscal approach to how Utah deals with federal funds. Here is a link to some information presented in the meeting about mandatory spending:

And here is a link to the recording of the meeting:

As they continue to meet and examine the information, their goal is not just to confirm that the sky might be falling, but to find a responsible way to fix the problem and to make the process transparent so that solutions to federal fund dependency can be openly discussed and adopted.

In the Education Task Force meeting, some very interesting information was presented about funding education in Utah.

Page 17 of this report

shows that if Utah wanted to increase its current spending ($6,200 per pupil per year) to that of the national average ($10,500 per pupil per year) it would mean the State would need to increase total education spending by $2.6 Billion. To raise that money, state income taxes would need to nearly double to 9.8%. Of course, we would all still need to pay Federal taxes in addition to that.

The Legislative Fiscal Analysis office also ran the scenario of what Utah’s income tax rate would need to be to compete with the U.S.’s biggest spender on education, the District of Columbia, where $29,400 is being spent per pupil per year. To reach that level of an education budget, Utah would need to raise $8 billion in revenue every year. (Keep in mind when I say revenue that means raising taxes.)

Utah income taxes would need to rise to 19.8%, or quadruple from today’s rates, to meet the high spending bar set by the good people of the District of Columbia.

SB 122, sponsored by Senator Osmond, created a grant program that schools can use to help develop student’s leadership skills. The State Board of Education has accepted applications from elementary schools that want to participate.

School grading is another bill that was passed during the legislative session that will soon take effect. Scheduled to begin in September, the new program will create an accountability system for schools that will not only be easy for the public to understand, but transparent in its assessments, so that legislators can see what sort of policy adjustments need to be implemented to help us reach our state’s education goals.

Here are President Niederhauser’s thoughts on why this sort of system is critical to improving Utah’s education system:

And here is an infograph showing how the system will work:

The state’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel has just completed an interesting briefing paper called ” Who Pays Taxes in Utah?” If you love analysis and numbers, here is the link:

The summary of the paper says what we all know: “Households bear the ultimate economic burden of all taxes. Some taxes are imposed initially on households, while other taxes are shifted to households after initial imposition on businesses.” Living in a well-managed state where taxes are low to begin with makes all the difference in standard of living levels.

Debt–personal, state, national–is an issue all over the country right now.

This study says that Utahns are more financially savvy than the average American and that on a personal level we are saving more and spending less than we were a few years ago. There are many aspects in our state and local governments that are encouraging this financial management style. Financial Ready Utah is one of those. If you have not seen the website yet, here is a link

You have probably read a lot about the possibility of an impeachment trial for John Swallow the Attorney General.

If it does happen it would be the first time in Utah.

The impeachment process is not used to determine if the office holder should be prosecuted or punished for criminal charges. It is about determining if public trust has been violated and maintaining the integrity of the office.

The House of Representatives is the body that decides if impeachment proceedings should begin. In their examination of the evidence, they will be looking for instances where the public’s trust has been violated. If they find enough evidence that this has been done, they would then impeach him–which means handing down a formal accusation. At this point, the Senate is convened for a trial. In that trial, Senators act as the judge and jury while the House acts as prosecutor.

Many have wondered why I have not voiced an opinion on what should happen in this unfortunate situation we may be forced to deal with. The reason that I, nor any of my senate colleagues have been public about our thoughts is that if the House choses to impeach the Attorney General, it is the responsibility of the Senators to be impartial, fair and honest as we listen to the evidence presented from both sides. I take that charge very seriously.

Here is a link to Representative Spencer Cox’s blog post about the process and his thoughts on what could or should happen.

And here is a flow chart put together by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel that explains the process.

Weeds and fire are summer realities here in Utah. Invasive, non-native weeds are becoming a real problem. Last session the Legislature allotted $1.3 million through the Invasive Species Mitigation Fund to help combat these weeds. Here are some thoughts from Senator Dayton about the weed problem and what you can do to help with the effort to combat the weeds.

One of the biggest problems that the weeds create is that they significantly alter wildfire frequency and intensity. Last year there were 1528 wild fires in Utah. Many were preventable because they were caused by negligence. As of mid June this year, there have been 160 fires in the state. Humans caused 126. Please be cautious this summer. Use common sense and be proactive in any fire prevention situation you might be in. Money we spend on fires caused by humans is really just wasted funds that could be used for other needs in our state. Here is a link giving current fire information for the state:

There are so many people who contribute to making Utah a great place. Here is an article by Senator Hillyard, pointing out the great works of Lacy B. Herrmann and his quiet, behind the scenes contributions to Utah.

A new natural gas fueling station was opened this month in Myton (Duchesne County). The station will offer liquefied and compressed natural gas in addition to diesel and gasoline. It will be one of the largest LNG/CNG stations in the United States. Such stations are part of the overall vision of SB 275 passed earlier this year. Efforts like this are critical as we look to improving our environment, lowering fuel costs and increasing our energy independence. Here is a link to more information about SB 275 and Utah’s initiatives to meet our environmental goals:

The best way to contact me is via email at


From → 2013 Interim

One Comment
  1. Evan Whipple permalink

    Thank you for your blog and all the important links. As a resident of Davis County, I get more and more upset about water restrictions and availability as I see ALL the snow and normal runoff EVERY year. Why cannot a wise individual Legislator build a few more reservoirs to SAVE this precious resource, stave off water loss, create a positive revenue source, create more recreation, etc. Available water is only going to get worse in the future especially with all the State population growth. Prepare!!!…just a thought.

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