Every week during Utah’s legislative session, The Salt Lake Tribune’s political reporters and columnists will chat about the hottest topics of the week. The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.
Benjamin Wood (education reporter): Welcome to this week’s Trib Caucus Slack chat, which will be convening weekly during the 2018 legislative session. We’re on day 3 of 45 so not much has happened (yet) but @leedavidson and @tanderson what are the highlights before we move on to today’s topic?
Lee Davidson (government reporter): It’s been mostly ceremonial up to now. But a main highlight was that House Speaker Greg Hughes declared legislative war on the makers of opioids, and a smaller war on the governor.
Michelle Quist (editorial writer): There are wars everywhere, apparently.
Wood: … And rumors of wars
Quist: That’s probably actually more correct. There’s talk of war, but I haven’t seen any guns yet. (Please don’t anyone get the idea for a new state gun. Please.)
Wood: @LeeDavidson Speakers have called out Herbert on day 1 of the session before (it’s almost a pastime). Anything unique about Hughes’ opening salvo?
Davidson: The House GOP is still upset at Gov. Herbert for not calling them into special session last year to set rules for the special congressional election. So they are slapping back a bit.
Taylor Anderson (government reporter): The House made good on that threat of war with the governor pretty quickly.
Rep. Chris Stewart was also here yesterday and he talked about the real scandal following the 2016 election. (Hint, it’s not Russian election meddling.)
Wood: How did lawmakers react to Rep. Stewart’s comments? Could you read anything from the room?
Anderson: That is what was interesting about Stewart’s speech in the Senate. You see national Republicans on TV talking about war with the “Deep State.” Yesterday, Stewart brought that to Utah, adding that it was concerning … if it’s true (he added).
Wood: OK let’s get to today’s topic. I’ve asked everyone to come prepared with 3 predictions, one with a 75% likelihood, one with a 50% likelihood and one with a 25% likelihood.
And I *didn’t* warn the group about this but you’ve all been given $100 Trib Bucks (!!!) to bet on these predictions. Winner gets my Gov. Herbert Bobblehead
Wood: We’ll try to do this in sequence so first up, @mquist what do you think has a 75% chance of happening in the next 42 days.
Quist: I think the Senate will pass Todd Weiler’s resolution to switch statues in the national Statuary Hall from Philo T. Farnsworth to Martha Hughes Cannon. 75%
Wood: hmmmm, interesting pick for the 75.
Quist: There has been some pushback from Philo fans - but I think Martha will take this one.
Wood: Who exactly are Philo fans? Sincerely asking
Quist: His posterity, and the principal of the elementary school that helped get that bill passed (so long ago).
Davidson: A lot of TV lovers out there hate that bill. Other perhaps more interesting women are in the U.S. statuary hall, such as Jeanette Rankin, first woman member of Congress and its only member to vote against both WWI and WW2.
Anderson: It’s amazing how worked up people get about the statue. Every member of Oregon’s House marched across the state Capitol and into the Senate President’s office in 2016 to get him to agree to change statues. He didn’t budge.
And I’ve seen a lot of chatter about Philo too, from techies mainly.
Wood: Every state gets 2 yes? Brigham Young being Utah’s other statue?
Quist: Each state gets 2. There should be a woman from Utah.
Davidson: How about Eliza Snow? I was working for another newspaper when Philo was first chosen. It did a reader’s poll at the time and Eliza was No. 2.
Wood: Or Becky Lockhart? First female Utah House speaker?
Quist: I’d be great with Eliza too! She’d be back next to Brigham, I guess.
Davidson: They’d be the first husband-wife statue team in the Capitol.
Quist: #Utah. “husband” “wife”
Wood: With Brigham Young, husband-wife teaming would carry an asterisk
Wood: Ok, @tanderson what’s your 75% prediction?
Anderson: I think there’s a 75% chance of a significant battle over local control of zoning because of a bill coming down the pike that would promote building dense housing on transit routes.
Wood: TOO VAGUE! 🙂
Quist: 75% chance of a battle? Which way will it come down??!!??!?
Wood: Yeah, there’s no way to bet on that.
Anderson: I’m hedging. OK, do I think they’ll pass the bill?
Davidson: The more vague something is, the better chance of passage
Wood: @leedavidson what’s your 75?
Davidson: My 75% prediction: New toughest-in-nation drunken driving bill remains mostly intact despite controversy. But bill to ban using hand-held cellphones while driving does not pass, even though studies show that is just as dangerous as drunken driving.
Quist: Hmm - a two-parter.
Wood: “mostly intact”? So are you saying 75% that they change to graduated penalties? C’mon guys. Specifics.
Quist: I’d agree the DUI bill remains. I’m not sure about the cellphone bill. You’re a gambler!
Davidson: Lawmakers are tweaking it around the edges, but the core pieces will remain. There will be a bill to allow graduated penalties, but I doubt it passes.
Wood: Ok, we’ll come back to @gehrke but since I’m the tail end of the snake I’ll do my 75% and 50% back-to-back.
There’s a 75% chance that lawmakers boost per-student spending by *at least* 5%. And a 50% chance that Our Schools Now folds up their tent and goes home during/after the session
Quist: Oooh. I agree they’ll boost by 5%. But I don’t think Our Schools Now is going anywhere.
Davidson: Seems like Our Schools Now is making lawmakers focus on getting more money … so they are winning … so why go away entirely?
Wood: If I may: The people behind Our Schools Now are not legislative antagonists. If the Legislature hands them a kumbaya moment, I think they take it. But again, 50-50 chance
Anderson: Every time there’s been a conversation about tax reform/transportation funding/education/anything at all, that initiative has come up. It’s making a huge impact on this session.
Wood: I can imagine a big end-of-session press conference where they’re all smiling and hugging it out for the cameras, talking about what a great year for education it was.
Davidson: They can always do what Count My Vote did … go away for a while and come back if needed.
Quist: And completely gut their original proposal …..
Davidson: But they still sort of accomplished their main goal.
Wood: It’s relatively easy for the Legislature to claim they made a big boost to education, when really the State Constitution demands that all income tax funding go there.
Anderson: But the Leg also appears to be hedging bets a bit, because when I’ve heard leaders talk about education funding, they also bring up this $600 million that roads are stealing from school kids every year.
So if they don’t hit that 5% (I think they will) they can point to roads.
Wood: Look guys, you don’t win the bobblehead for being soft. We’re in this to win it.
@leedavidson what’s your 50% prediction? (Reminder, if any of these start floating your boat you can put money down for or against.)
Davidson: 50%: Lawmakers restructure the scandal-tainted Utah Transit Authority (which has good chances) and that move actually restores trust in the agency (50-50 at best, but perhaps happens over time).
Wood: I think it’s more than 50% that they pass some sort of restructuring. Whether or not it restores trust is outside this caucus’ purview.
Anderson: Don’t be soft, Ben!
Quist: That would be great if the public can trust UTA again.
Wood: Make. Transit. Great. Again.?
Davidson: Hope on board the trust train
Quist: My 50% is that Sen. Thatcher’s bill on victim targeting passes. Maybe it’s just my hope - but I’m going to give it a 50% chance. (I may have gone out of turn there.)
Wood: That’s the hate crimes bill right? (And yes you did 🙂)
Quist: Yes but he’s trying to not call it that.
Wood: If you had done that as 25%, I would have taken the bet for the 3:1 odds. But 1:1?
Davidson: I’m not putting any of my Trib bucks on that one.
Quist: @leedavidson! I’d bet on yours …..
Wood: Do it! How much?
Quist: Like I said, sometimes you need to say something out loud, or write it down, for it to come true. So now it can come true.
Wood: Ok, I’ll put $10 on hate crimes passing
Robert Gehrke (political columnist): Sorry to join late. I think the chances of transit restructuring are a lot higher than 50 percent. It may not look like what the task force recommended, but there will be something coming.
Wood: Welcome @gehrke! Whenever you care to, make your 75% and 50% predictions
Davidson: I think restructuring is happening too -- just give 50-50 on it actually helping trust in UTA.
Anderson: Yeah, the House is all in on that one. There should be a bill out any day (hour?) But I already used my 75% on a vague fight over local control.
Wood: $25 on a UTA restructure bill passing
Davidson: I match that, and raise you $5.
Wood: Lee on the board for $30
Davidson: Actually, it’s Lee is “on board” (UTA) for $30.
Gehrke: Hate crimes is an interesting one. I think maybe a 1 in 3 chance it gets through the Senate. But I don’t know that the House is going to bite.
Anderson: Would anyone put money on Rep. Ray Ward’s bill to have Medicaid cover IUDs for low-income women?
Quist: I would. $15
Wood: Depends, are you making it 25%? Because that would be big odds.
Anderson: I’ll say 50%.
Wood: Yeah, even money is good for that one
Gehrke: I dunno. I think most of the male Legislature thinks IUDs are IEDs -- Improvised Explosive Devices.
Wood: We missed you Gehrke
Anderson: Ward can sell it on the fact that it cuts abortion and helps women out of poverty.
Gehrke: Remember, this was a Legislature where more than a couple members of the Senate didn’t realize that nursing mothers could pump. “So it’s like milking?” That literally happened.
“OK, they’re gonna do, what I called, and what my wife called ‘milking’?” — Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.
Wood: @gehrke 75% and 50%. Go!
Gehrke: Well, let’s say there’s a 75 percent chance that the fight over the Northwest quadrant of SLC gets super political within the next two weeks. I know ... cowardly prediction.
Wood: Ugh, I expected better from you
Anderson: That’s my kind of guy
Ok, let’s get to the fun stuff. 25% likelihood. I’ll start. There’s a 25% chance we see some form of comprehensive sex education passing this year.
Davidson: Make that 0%
Gehrke: OK. How about a 75 percent chance that we get through Gov. Gary Herbert’s State of The State speech tonight without really having much idea of what he plans to do in the next year?
Wood: Lol, all the money in the world.
Gehrke: Actually, I might bet against myself on that one, to be honest. I think Herbert is wanting to start working on legacy projects. He might go a little bolder than he has in the past.
Wood: @tanderson what’s your 25%?
Anderson: There is less than a 25% chance of ‘meaningful’ tax reform this year. I’d put it closer to 0%.
Davidson: $40 on that
Anderson: The most fun topic I could think of
Wood: You don’t think they’ll pass anything?
Quist: I think they’ll pass something.
Anderson: I think they’ll nip at the edges
Wood: School district equalization is going to happen in some form.
Anderson: Yeah that, and maybe they’ll knock off a few exemptions, but maybe add some huge ones back on.
Gehrke: @tanderson is right on tax reform, I think. Tomorrow the Tax Commission is going to release some projections on the impact of the federal reform. Sen. Stevenson has said they expect it to be between $20 and $85 million. I’d take the over. But I think it freezes anything big for this session.
Quist: I think there’s only 25% chance they pass something related to marijuana that actually makes a difference with the initiative - like takes the steam out of it.
Wood: But do you think the initiative quits? Or jumps/limps afterward?
Anderson: I think the initiative won’t be stopped this session.
Quist: I think the initiative stays.
Wood: After watching that last few mairjuana fights i’m skeptical the two chambers can agree on something that would really deflate the initiative.
Davidson: I think the initiative catches fires and starts smoking after the session.
Wood: Ok, I lost track so if you haven’t made a 25% prediction do it now. Also, you’re all sitting on your Trib Bucks. Place your bets people
Davidson: My 25%: Democrats manage to get at least a hearing on their “living wage” bill to raise the minimum wage. The chances of actual passage in the GOP-controlled Legislature are roughly the same as the Utah Jazz winning the NBA championship this year or live unicorns being discovered roaming the Wasatch Mountains.
Wood: I’m putting the rest of my money on Sex Ed. If that hits I’m going to Disneyland
Davidson: With a bobblehead.
Quist: To Disneyland with a bobblehead?? Do they take those?
Anderson: $100 that there is no meaningful tax reform, yet there will be tax changes on the periphery and lawmakers will walk away saying they reformed taxes. I’ve got to go tell [Senate President Wayne] Niederhauser I just put all my Trib bucks against what he called for in his speech two days ago.
Wood: Ok any last bets before we close the cash registers?
Davidson: I bet I lose whatever I do
Wood: So nihilistic, Lee
Davidson: Knowing words like nihilistic is why you are an education reporter
Anderson: Or a Big Lebowski fan
Wood: The rug really ties the room together.
Quist: I’ll keep the rest of mine in my pocket, thanks.
Wood: The Utah Legislature would be proud Michelle
Quist: I aim to please.
Wood: Ok guys thanks for playing. I’ll keep an eye on these bets over the next few weeks.
Readers, do you want to play for the bobblehead? Post a comment with your bets, but *you* only get 50 Trib bucks because the House (and the Senate) always wins.