Legislative wrap-up by Rep. Kay McIff
The legislature has recessed. We are safe for another year. I make this report on areas of interest to the general citizenry and particularly to those who reside in the counties of Emery, Sanpete, and Sevier which I am both pleased and honored to represent.
The State Budget. Consistent with our constitutional responsibility, we balanced the budget of some $12 billion dollars. We narrowed the use of one-time resources for ongoing commitments from $313 million to about $50 million. That will make it easier during future years. Our rainy-day fund approaching $200 million remains largely intact.
Public Education. For the first time in three years, we fully funded an increase of some 14,000 new students. We defeated a change in school busing requirements that would have been extremely damaging to rural Utah. The funding per student was increased by almost $500 resulting in greater flexibility for local districts.
Higher Education. Higher education funding was cut by almost 2 percent. Once again, our colleges and universities will have to rely on tuition increases. The College of Applied Technology received more favorable treatment. We should not fail to appreciate the quality of our higher education institutions and need to look at their needs more closely during future years.
Corrections and jails. We shored up public safety and corrections budgets by putting an additional $2.5 million into law enforcement, and nearly $10 million into inmate housing.The latter is of great importance to the rural counties that house state inmates. It is of particular importance to Sanpete, Garfield, and Kane County, and to a lesser extent, other rural counties in central and southern Utah.
Immigration. This was the most difficult subject matter of the legislative session. In the end, we passed multiple bills including a law enforcement package requiring officers to check on the immigration status of those detained for serious crimes, while also providing for an innovative guest worker program. There is also a migrant worker pilot project championed by Utah's Attorney General. The Deseret News has correctly characterized the approach as "a pragmatic solution based on Utah values that addresses a thorny issue with which congress has refused to deal." I think Utah's approach far superior to Arizona's and will be followed by other states.
Public Roads. I sponsored a bill designed to assist the counties, and to some extent cities and towns, against efforts to close public roads that sometimes cross private property, but have historically provided access to farms, ranches and the public domain. The bill received broad support in both houses and dovetails with our efforts to keep open the 2477 roads that are the subject of ongoing litigation in federal courts.
Replacement of Lost Revenue. Under sponsorship of Senator Hinkins out of Emery and Representative Watkins from Price, we appropriated funds to replace tax revenue lost by the removal of sales tax on equipment used in our coal mines. This will be of particular benefit to certain communities in Emery, Carbon, and, to a lesser extent, Sevier.
Transparency in Government. The bill limiting access to text messages on cell phones will be afforded a full review between now and the first of July. Everyone's input will be heard. I know of no one who intends to do business in secret. Responding to information requests can become very expensive for government, running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Finding a proper balance to assure openness without undue expense can be problematic. Please know that I am unaware of anything that would violate public trust.
Fellow Legislators. I have the great privilege of working with men and women in both the Senate and House who are superb public servants. I mention in particular Senators Okerlund and Hinkins and Representatives Noel, Painter, Watkins, and Wright who serve the same general area.
Each one sponsored important legislation during this last session.