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Budget • Making a budget is a little like meatball surgery.
Back on the Hill
Utah’s 104 legislators return to action beginning Monday, buckling in for a 45-day blitz of lawmaking, budget-writing, speechifying, statesmanship and — at times — political game playing.
By the time the final gavel comes down, the state will have hundreds more new laws and commitments to spend close to $13 billion in taxpayer funds. That March 8 midnight deadline is rigid, set in the state Constitution.
But some on Utah’s Capitol Hill will be keeping one eye on another date: Nov. 6, when all 75 House members and half of the 29 senators face voters. That looming election is likely to leave its own an imprint on the session, perhaps on the substantial issues of immigration and education, and certainly by way of inspiring a new raft of message bills.
During the recession, the state budget had more than $1 billion sliced out of it with programs pared back and some cut to the bone.
Now, with economic conditions improving, legislators will have a total of $400 million to set about patching up the wounds and nursing the patient back to a somewhat more robust $12.9 billion.
But budget doctors and Gov. Gary Herbert both acknowledge the money won’t go far.
"I can tell you if we … just take the money available, we will meet maybe half of the needs to fund growth in education and other areas of government, things we think are really, really important," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, co-chairman of the budget committee.
Rapid growth in school enrollment combined with federally mandated health care coverage for Utah’s poor will eat up half the available funds.
The Legislature earmarked another $60 million for road maintenance — overriding the governor’s veto — and has to come up with $56 million out of the gate to sustain programs whose funding would vanish by July without a fresh infusion.
Herbert has proposed a $26.4 million corporate tax break, reducing what businesses pay for unemployment insurance. The governor says the move would stimulate private-sector hiring.
— Robert Gehrke
States’ rights • In recent years, Utah Republicans sought to draw a line in the sand — all the way around the state.
They exempted guns made in the state from federal laws, blocked implementation of federal health reform and declared gold as legal tender.
Conservative lawmakers in the upcoming session will seek to continue the push a states’ rights agenda.
"This year is going to be a much, much better year for states’ rights issues than 2011 but I don’t think it will top 2010," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, the new chairman of the states-rights-oriented Patrick Henry Caucus.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, is sponsoring the latest push to challenge the federal government’s ownership of land in Utah. His proposal would set a deadline for the feds to begin selling land in the state and if it isn’t met, the state would slap the feds with taxes, setting up a likely court fight.
Reps. Ken Sumsion and Chris Herrod are taking a different approach. They want the attorney general to go to court to seek a judgment ordering the federal government to turn over federal land to the state or make compensation to the tune of billions of dollars.
"As far as the lands bills go," Thatcher said, "at the end of the day we are going to find a successful model and I absolutely believe that this year we will pass something that will help the state tremendously."
Sen. Casey Anderson is proposing legislation that would make it a state crime for any official to enforce any federal regulations on food produced entirely within the state.
Meanwhile, Rep. Wayne Harper is sponsoring a bill that could prohibit intrusive screenings at airports in the state.Next Page >
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