Skip to content

Should The State Provide Incentives For A convention Center Hotel?

20140208-194356.jpg

A Government subsidized 1,000-room Convention Hotel is possibly in the future for the heart of Salt Lake City. Proponents believe the new property will add much needed convention-quality hotel rooms (just across the street from the Salt Palace) and additional meeting space that will attract bigger and more conventions.

Stating that this hotel will leverage its investments with the Salt Palace Convention Center for greater returns seems like a win but not everyone (and every business) is on board.

A lodging Impact analysis by the HREC (Hospitality Real Estate Counselors) concluded that, over a five-year period, 330,000 rooms that would have gone to existing hotels would be spent at the new convention center hotel.

Some claim that existing hotels stand to. Lose $100 million in existing business revenue — but that figure Is dependent on a yet-unknown ADR (Average Daily Rate) during the conventions. The HREC study assumed an ADR during a convention in Salt Lake City of $318. Even a conservative estimate of $125 ADR could still end up costing the existing hotels $41 million in lost revenue during those first five years.

Proponents for the convention hotel believe that although there may be a loss during the first two years, the amount of conventions would increase room revenue for all hotels back into the positive by year three. That’s what happened with San Diego’s similarly-situated project. While the hospitality industry may not want a new 1,000 room hotel casting a shadow over their properties, not all Salt Lake businesses agree.

An estimated $35.7 million would be spent outside the hotel in local restaurants, entertainment venues, the convention center and local transportation in the first two years.

With a newly-added cap a $75 million cap for public investments (tax-payers money), most of the hotel project would be funded by private investors. Not to mention the boost in construction jobs during construction — which would also stimulate the economy.

The existing hotels in the Salt Lake Valley have expressed their concerns. Every convention drops a “Hotel Bomb” on downtown Salt Lake — and the ripples resonate all over the valley. The increased demand results in higher rates and revenues.

Many downtown hotels already operating on thin margins question whether they can survive the two years of lost revenue. Would the down periods be worth having a higher number of conventions for years to come?

Since were dealing with an issue with so much financial importance, it’s not likely that opponents will remain silent.

20140208-194411.jpg

Advertisements

Transportation Funding in Utah

20140206-073308.jpg

Our state plays a critical role in building, maintaining and repairing roads and bridges. This is a difficult task that requires enormous funding and planning. Many are unaware of how the state receives and uses these funds. Utah’s constitution specifies that proceeds of “any tax, fee and other charges relating to the operation of vehicles on public highways must be used highway purposes”.

The revenue the state collects from taxes on fuel and fees, such as vehicle registration, is all directed towards highway purposes. Half of the revenue for the transportation fund comes from the motor fuel tax. The last gas tax increase was 5.5 cents in 1997.

Every penny of the current 24.5 cent per gallon gas tax generated $10.3 million in state revenues. But the money we collect has 40% less buying power today than it did in 1997. The state also receives transportation funds from the federal government.

In 2013, the federal government appropriated $309.7 million to Utah to improve the National Highway System. The federal government also worked with our state to fund the development of the UTA system.

These funds are used for highway purposes determined by the priorities of the Transportation Commission. About 70% of the funds are given to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and are used as dictated by the state legislature.

The other 30% goes to various cities and counties according to their transportation needs. Before these funds are distributed, a special fund is set aside for highway administration and law enforcement. These funds are carefully distributed to ensure they are used for intended purpose of maintaining our transportation system.

A growing problem is the large decreases in transportation revenue coupled with large increases in highway usage. From 1976 to 2012, we have seen a 105% increase in the total gallons of fuel purchased in Utah and a 206% increase in vehicle miles traveled.

The vehicles we use today are more efficient, however, this has created a dilemma in which gas tax revenues are falling and road usage is increasing. The status quo is not sustainable and we must find a different way to fund our transportation system.

Some suggest we increase or restructure vehicle registration fees based on vehicle weight. Others recommend we introduce a “miles-traveled” user fee for the highway system. During this legislative session, I welcome your input on this important issue.

20140206-073326.jpg

Should We Build A Uintah Express Pipeline?

20140205-070635.jpg

A local refinery is seeking a permit from the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (UWCNF) to construct a 12-inch underground “common carrier” pipeline for the purpose of transporting crude oil. The purpose of the pipeline is to create safer and more efficient means of transportation of crude oil from the Uintah Basin to the Salt Lake City Tesoro Refinery.

The 135-mile pipeline would have five principal facilities along the line to help the transportation process. The original principal facility located in the Uintah Basin will be approximately 20 acres on private property. The following four principal facilities will each be five acres and also be located on private property.

New drilling technology has caused a 54% increase of crude oil in the last five years. In 2008, 8.7 million barrels were produced in the Uintah Basin. In 2013, over 18 million barrels of crude oil was produced. This increase is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

The pipeline would transport 60,000 barrels per day. The benefits seem positive for most involved: from the increased jobs that would be created while the construction took place, to limiting the number of trucks on the road, as well as reducing air pollution to the salt lake valley. Traffic and air quality are huge issues facing the Wasatch front. Many believe that a cheaper and less invasive way to transport this vital product has more benefits than drawbacks.

20140205-070656.jpg

Week One In Review

My stake president, Robert Lingard, opened the Senate with prayer on Thursday.

20140202-202711.jpg

The general session of the 60th Legislature of the State of Utah officially began at 10:00 a.m. on Monday. We began our opening ceremony with a prayer as we do each morning. Prayers are given by a wide variety of religious leaders and local citizens. If you or someone you know would like to offer our opening prayer some day please let me know. 

President Niederhauser gave us some very wise and timely opening remarks (here is a link to his address: http://www.senatesite.com/home/nieder-2014-opening/) and then after a few formalities and introductions we began our work. We “read in” 98 bills, which means they were introduced by having their titles and sponsors read and then sent to the rules committee where they are assigned to standing committees.

We did have one unusual event that day. Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla from Arizona came to the senate floor, proposed to Senator Luz Robles and she accepted! Here is a link to an overview of the day’s events including a video of the proposal. http://www.senatesite.com/home/1-27-2014/ 

On Tuesday our committee work for appropriations began. This week has been dubbed Base Budget week, all the appropriations subcommittees met almost every day. The work of these committees is to carefully scrutinize the existing budget. Just as you do when you review your household budget, each subcommittee reviews and then determines if the allocated expenditures are achieving the desired outcomes and then we look for any potential savings that could be found within the budget we are responsible for. We look at our budget broken down line-by-line and by individual agency. We compare last year’s budget for each agency to their previous five-year trend and look at how last year’s appropriated funds were spent. We ask if their expenditure goals were met and deemed successful as well as the very important question of how the agency measures success or failure in their expenditures. We also ask what has, will or could be done to increase efficiency and productivity and possibly cut internal expenditures.

In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Governor Herbert pointed out that despite a few challenges, Utah really is doing well. We are creating jobs, our unemployment is the 4th lowest in the nation, we live in the second fastest growing state — and growing in the right way. Here is a link to his speech: http://www.utah.gov/governor/docs/stateofstate/2014StateoftheStateAddress.pdf

It was a long, but important week. We began each day between 7:00 and 8:00 and finished between 5:00 and 7:00 each night. My Social Services Appropriations committee spent 24 hours deliberating and asking questions. In between the meetings I was on the Senate floor or meeting with constituents. We will finish these budget meetings and move on to regular committee meetings to address specific bills early next week. This extra time to examine the budgets has been very productive, but it will make the rest of the session even more intense because our standing committees have yet to meet. 

Some have suggested that we could get more done if our session were longer, but I agree with President Niederhauser when he said that he was glad our time allotment is defined in our Constitution so that we can’t just decide to extend our session time like other states have done. I am certain that having a part-time legislature with a limit to the time we can work is a major contributor to the efficiency with which we are able to run the State. In fact, other states are recognizing that big government is more of a problem than a solution. Here are some links to articles from some other states that are actually trying to reduce the size of their legislatures or make them part-time.

http://www.theadanews.com/local/x1724061064/Enid-lawmaker-proposes-downsizing-Legislature

This article says that in Michigan their goal is to “prohibit the state Legislature from meeting for more than 60 regular session days a year, cap lawmaker salaries at $35,000 and allow for no more than 250 legislative staffers.” http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/01/michigan_part_time_legislature_ballot.html

Makes me shake my head. We only meet for 45 days (including Saturdays and Sundays), lawmakers are only paid for the days they attend official meetings and there are only five full time staffers for the entire Utah Senate. (We do hire extra temporary help during session.) Keeping government small is important. I am glad other states are recognizing what we already know. 

Here is an interesting article related to state’s budgeting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/01/24/how-states-spend-their-cash-in-5-maps/ It shows the overall percent of each state’s budget that is spent on corrections, highways, hospitals and public health, education and public welfare. It was interesting to me that we are number four in the nation for the percent of our budget that we spend on education. The three states that spend a higher percentage spend only one percent more of their budget than we do. Poling results consistently show that education is the highest priority for the citizens of Utah. The legislature sanctions that priority by allocating such a high percentage of the budget to education. We need to be cognizant that the money we spend is for quality education for our children. This week of drilling down into the details of the budget helps to make sure that it happening.

On Friday, Senator Hatch addressed the Senate. He allowed us time for questions and was queried on federal regulations of the sale of medical devices, immigration, PILT money and free trade. Senator Hillyard asked him why members of congress were excluded from ACA (Obamacare). If you would like to hear what he said, here is a link: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=16352&meta_id=488721

There are several key issues we will be addressing this year. I am sure you are aware of many of them. Funding quality education; alcohol policy; what we can do to improve our air quality; how the state should handle Medicaid; transportation. They are all subjects that will take a great deal of consideration. I value your input and thoughts on these issues.

May I offer a few thoughts on the Amendment 3 issue? Judge Shelby’s rejection of Utah’s definition of marriage is being reviewed by a higher court.  Legislators who are lawyers have actively participated in preparing Utah’s legal response to Judge Shelby’s decision.  It is likely that Utah’s response will argue that Utah’s definition of marriage is legal and constitutional based upon appropriate state jurisdiction over marriage and Religious Liberty.  

This issue is very divisive with strong emotions on both sides.  As your legislator, I strongly support the Legislature’s and Utah’s efforts to defend the definition of marriage adopted by the people of Utah in their constitution.  Winning in court, however, will require strong legal arguments: judges will not be swayed by impassioned legislative statements, whether made orally or in legislation.

It is also important to separate this issue from the people involved.  As your legislator, I respect our gay and lesbian citizens and their families and understand their commitment to their beliefs.  I would urge you, and all the members of our community, to actively show respect for everyone involved with this issue, regardless of their position or their comments.

As you can see, this has been a busy week and there are six more to come. You can keep track of what we are doing each day on the legislative website (http://le.utah.gov/) or on the daily posts on the senate blog (http://www.senatesite.com/home/) or you can follow a play-by-play of floor and committee action through the twitter handle @UTLEGtracker 

We are the first state in the nation to tweet legislative action in real time. Here is a little information on this new way you can keep track of the minute by minute happenings. http://www.senatesite.com/home/twitterfirehose/ 

There are actually A LOT of ways to follow what we are doing here everyday and to engage with the Senate. Our staff at the senate has made it easy for you. From this link http://senatecloud.com/ you can find all our social media sites, the senate YouTube channel, Flickr for pictures, the senate’s blog and more. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Also, just in case you are interested, here is a link to a roster for a pdf with all phone numbers and addresses for each member of the legislature.  http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1

Thank you for your support. I am grateful to represent you.

On Thursday, I spoke at a Town Hall meeting in Bountiful.

20140202-203326.jpg

Improving Our Air Quality

20140203-060126.jpg

Air quality is not a new issue for Utah—in the 1920s, coal-fired stoves blackened the air. Our unique topography of high-elevation mountain ranges and low-lying valleys, coupled with the concentration of pollution results in extreme short-term pollution spikes during inversions.

During these spikes Utah’s particulate pollution ranks high in PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels. 

20140203-060148.jpg

However, when annual averages are considered Utah scores among the best in the nation. The EPA web site called AIR NOW (http://airnow.gov/ ) lists the current “worst air” on a daily basis and hourly basis. One way to compare all metropolitan areas is to compare the total number of days that any ambient air quality standard is exceeded.  In 2012, Salt Lake City— the highest in Utah — had 17 days while areas in California experienced 122 red air days. (http://www.epa.gov/aircompare/compare.htm ) Utah also is comparatively better than most eastern metropolitan centers.

Even though Utah’s population has grown, we have significantly better air quality today than we did 40 years ago when EPA standards were originally implemented.

  • In 1971 our particulate levels were over 250. We are now at about 35.
  • We have cut annual emissions significantly during the last decade.
    • Salt Lake Count annual emissions for all inventoried pollutants in 2002, 409.098. In 2011 it was down to 217,542.In those same years PM2.5 exceedances decreased by
    • 31% in the Salt Lake non-attainment area
    • 31% in the Utah County area and
    • 50% in Cache County.

The 2012-2013 legislative Air Quality Task Force found that on an average winter day

  • Motor vehicles are responsible for 56 percent of the PM2.5 or “dirty air.”
  • About 11% of the emissions come from “point sources”—refineries, mines, large manufacturing.
  • The rest is coming from sources such as our home furnaces, restaurants, small manufacturing, retail stores, office buildings, wood-burning stoves, snow blowers and lawnmowers.
  • Vehicles are the growing source of the problem. In 2002, vehicles contributed only 47% of the average weekday emissions—Nox, VOC, SOX, Direct PM2.5.

In spite of our progress, the EPA promulgates more stringent standards every few years. The new standards move the line—so where we once met the standards, we no longer meet the new stricter standards. A yellow air day now may have been a green day just a few years ago.

Legislation is proactively addressing our air quality.

  • In 2013, the legislature passed three bills promoting clean air.
  • So far this year, the Clean Air Caucus has sponsored 15 bills and a resolution.
  • Governor Herbert has requested $18 million for air quality actions, including $14 million for bus conversions.

Real improvement in air quality will require every Utah citizen to change their behavior Everyday living necessities are responsible for 33% of

  • More use of mass transit
  • Driving lower emission vehicles
  • Less and smarter driving
  • Turning down the thermostat
  • More efficient commercial cooking and manufacturing equipment
  • Better insulated buildings
  • Changes in building codes

Enforcing these changes are going to mean more regulation (which most people probably won’t like) and more public information campaigns to help change behaviors.

Gov. Herbert has launched an initiative that encourages people to set air quality goals. The Utah Clean Air Partnership (U-CAIR) http://www.ucair.org/ and Clean Air Utah http://www.cleanair.utah.gov/ offers tips and suggestions for families and companies to make realistic changes and set achievable goals.

We can make more improvements in our air quality, but change is dependent on individual lifestyle adjustments—not just more government regulations.

20140203-141552.jpg

2014 Begins With “Budget Week”

The House and the Senate faces off this week in a friendly game of “Family Feud” hosted by Chuck Wollery!

20140130-055851.jpg

Utah is one of the lucky states with a part-time legislature. Being a part time legislator means that after the session is over, I go home and go back to work — just like you. Having a part-time legislature is one of the things that makes Utah great because lawmakers have to work and live under the laws we create. (If only Congress did the same …)

Like every year, creating and adopting a balanced budget is the most important task I will face as a legislator this session.

Utah has a unique budgeting process that has earned us the ranking of one of the best-managed states. Here is how the process works: each legislator serve on at least one of the eight issue-oriented appropriations subcommittees. The subcommittees are:

-Business, Economic Development and Labor
-Executive Offices and Criminal Justice
-Higher Education
-Infrastructure and General Government
-Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality
-Public Education
-Retirement and Independent Entities
-Social Services

I am on two: the Retirement and Social Services committees. We discuss funding for over $4 Billion in programs.

On the very first day of the session, I receive a copy of the “base budgets” for my committees. They are not the final working budget, but a skeletal version based on last year’s numbers. During the first weeks of session, the appropriations committees make decisions about how to prioritize their allotment of the general budget.

Each of those committees will eventually submit their budget requests to the Executive Appropriations committee. That committee combines the smaller budgets prices together to create the full budget.

The final budget is eventually voted on as the “Bill of Bills.” Once passed, it becomes the working budget for the next fiscal year. Utah’s budget from all sources totals $13 billion!

A transparent budget process is critical to responsible spending. Utah is also unique in revealing to the public an easy way to see how the money in spent in the Compendium of Budget Information or COBI:

http://le.utah.gov/lfa/reports/cobi2014/COBI2014.htm

COBI is an encyclopedia of the state’s budget. On this link you can find see the last seven years of budget history, see where the funds for each part of the budget are coming from, who gets the money (which department or agency) and the purpose for which the funds are allocated. You can follow funding sources, see any changes between any actual and appropriated funds and see names and descriptions of specific line item expenditures.

Here is a YouTube video from the Office of Legislative Fiscal Analysts that provides a simple overview:

Here is another video that explains the various types of appropriations that we consider:

Here is an article sharing some of Utah’s economic growth predictions:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865592733/Utah-economy-expected-to-grow-in-2014-analysts-say.html?pg=all

Budgeting can be difficult. Every program has passionate advocates. My priority is to always remember that it’s YOUR MONEY and it must be used prudently to provide only essential services. I do my best to represent you in making those expenditures.

I chair then Retirement Committee. Did you know that Utah’s Retirement Systems was ranked as one of the Top 10 in the nation for its private equity returns? The ranking comes from a study done by the Private Equity Growth Capital Council. Here is a link to an infographic showing the results:

http://www.privateequityatwork.com/wpcontent/uploads/2013/10/PEGCC_Infographic_PublicPensionFund.pdf

Pensions have proven problematic issue in a number of states. Utah addressed this problem four years ago and we were able to alleviate the detrimental funding problems that many states face today.

Utah is the second fastest growing economy in the nation right now. Our population increased 1.6% between 2012 and 2013 or the equivalent of adding a city the size of Murray.

If you would like to keep track of any sort of legislation or any particular bill, you can do it very easily on our website:

http://le.utah.gov/asp/billsintro/index.asp

Every floor session is live streamed and every committee meeting is broadcast. The links will be on the main web page http://le.utah.gov/#iframe each day under the Audio/Video tab.

This week, I got to meet Anthony Robles, who was a national collegiate wrestling champion — with only one leg! (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Robles)

20140130-061533.jpg

Labor Day Update

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: http://le.utah.gov/asp/interim/Commit.asp?year=2013&com=APPHED

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: http://www.senatesite.com/home/education-jeb-bush/#more-8723

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: http://utahschoolgrading.com/

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: http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2013/Pew_Results_First_50state_report.pdf

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. http://governor.utah.gov/publiclands/Images/Map_UtahFederalLand8x11.pdf

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:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/08/29/the-feds-need-to-let-up-and-give-to-utah-what-is-utahs/

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:

http://utahpulse.com/printer_friendly/23318100

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: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&event_id=1855

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.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865585061/Orrin-Hatch-Rob-Bishop-tout-importance-of-F-35-at-Hill-Air-Force-Base.html

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. http://www.ncsl.org/

Senator Stuart Reid recently spoke out against congressional delinquency:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/56740174-82/immigration-utah-congress-reform.html.csp

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

http://kcpw.org/blog/local-news/2013-08-21/mayor-becker-recognizes-ultra-runner-for-cancer-awareness/

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 khqn1480.com or UtahTalkRadio.com

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.

http://geeks.broadwayworld.com/printcolumn.cfm?id=537711

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. http://www.pewstates.org/projects/stateline/headlines/start-your-engines-states-setting-higher-speed-limits-85899491761?utm_source=eNews&utm_campaign=1e9f78ba88-July_227_22_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5fb1de72ab-1e9f78ba88-74390593#

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: http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002717.pdf 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. http://taxfoundation.org/blog/monday-map-federal-aid-percentage-state-general-revenue

Here is a link to more information and audio of the commission’s meeting: http://www.senatesite.com/home/commission-on-federalism/

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

http://www.senatesite.com/home/2013-special-session-1/

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

http://www.senatesite.com/home/july-2013-appointments/

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:

http://www.senatesite.com/home/2013-special-session-1/

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

http://www.heraldextra.com/legislature/lt-governor-s-office-selects-firm-to-investigate-swallow/article_b959c7f9-74f7-5cd2-b16f-07efe0bb66c3.html

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:

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002777.pdf

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

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002783.pdf

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.

http://www.senatesite.com/home/madsen-admin-subpoena/

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:

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002275.pdf

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

http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=9525&meta_id=230585

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:

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002271.pdf

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.

https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/gsp_newsrelease.htm

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.

http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/05/30/air-force-consolidates-f-22-depot-maintenance-and-hill-gets-200-jobs

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.

http://billmoyers.com/content/12-cities-leading-the-way-in-sustainability/8/

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.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865580719/Utahs-little-secret-Inclusion-a-key-to-economic-growth.html

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

http://www.senatesite.com/home/nieder-economic-advantage/#more-8017

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:

http://www.utah.gov/governor/news_media/article.html?article=8911

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

http://governor.utah.gov/dea/publications/commissions/Prison_Relocation_and_Development_Authority/6-15-2012%20Meeting/

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:

http://www.le.utah.gov/code/TITLE35A/35A09.pdf

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:

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002239.pdf

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

http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=9490&meta_id=426171

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

http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00002076.pdf

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:

http://www.senatesite.com/home/niederhauser-school-grading/

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

http://www.choiceineducation.org/images/documents/schoolgradinginfographic2.pdf

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:

http://le.utah.gov/lrgc/briefings/Briefing.TaxIncidenceMay2013.pdf

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 http://www.usfinancialcapability.org/ 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 http://financialreadyutah.com/

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.

http://www.electspencercox.com/2013/05/31/the-i-word-utahs-attorney-general-and-the-truth-about-impeachment/

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

http://matchbin-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/public/sites/2232/assets/6HKT_Impeachment_Process.pdf

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. http://www.senatesite.com/home/weeds/#more-8165

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: http://www.utahfireinfo.gov/fire_information/ytd_fires.html

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.
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/56356668-82/state-utah-tax-free.html.csp

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: http://www.senatesite.com/home/clean-air-progress/

The best way to contact me is via email at tweiler@le.utah.gov