Report from the Legislature
Capital outlay equalization: A legislative task force that worked through the summer failed to come to an agreement. Rapidly growing school districts along the Wasatch front are looking for money. I understand the crunch, but I also believe that growth not only produces challenges, but usually provides the economic vibrancy to meet those challenges. They may have to bond and build, but in the long run they should be OK. I am more concerned about the districts with stagnant or declining enrollment who generate inadequate funding to replace old or decaying buildings.
Transportation: I-15 in Utah Valley dominates the discussion. It is apparent to all of us who travel north that this is a bottleneck and will only get worse. We are geared to increase the number of lanes over the next four to six years, but the expanded capacity will quickly be consumed. Sooner rather than later, we need to develop a route around Utah ValleyÃ¯Â¿Â½probably west of Camp Williams, through Eagle Mountain and on down to Santaquin or Nephi. We also need to complete the upgrade of Highway 6 to Price. I drove it in the dark last week and felt like a boxer bobbing and weaving as the number of lanes moved between two, three and four. It is simply not safe for the amount of traffic it carries.
Immigration: There are no winners here. The subject is full of pain. The religious community, including LDS leaders at the highest level, have encouraged "caution, restraint, and compassion." Business leaders, including Farm Bureau, the Manufacturers Association, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, The Retail Trade Association and others have warned of significant economic consequences from punishing migrant workers and their employers. The Governor and the Attorney General have decried punishing kids based upon the sins of their parents.
In all of this there is very little harmony though there are some things on which all agree. Secure the borders, find out who is here and get them registered, adopt a reasonable and verifiable worker program, avoid granting blanket amnesty, but allow fair, lawful and orderly immigration; continue to press the federal government to get its act together. It alone has the legal capacity to deal with what truly is a national problem.
Beyond these, the opinions vary greatly and the water become murky. It is not possible to please everyone. Here are some principles I attempt to employ in the decision making process: (1) Is it right or wrong? Very few issues can be decided so simply, but some can. Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was the right thing to do. There's no question about that. (2) What are the practical realities? Problem solvers are more useful than ideologues. Better to address circumstances as they are than to spout rhetoric. (3) How do the benefits and burdens fall? Fundamental fairness is of overarching importance. (4) Does it square with constitutional principles? (5) Will the vote stand the test of time? Sometimes movements develop the impetus of a prairie fire, but don't look so good when the fire is gone. I believe that is why one religious leader encouraged us to "stand back and take a second look and think twice and cut once."
Balancing the Budget: Earlier this week the New York Times reported that many states are in serious financial trouble, among them our western neighbors of California and Arizona. They expect to be overspent by about 16-17 percent. If that happened in Utah we would be in the hole by some $1.8 billion. Gratefully, we will end in the black and save a little for next year. That is a credit to many years of fiscal responsibility.
Public Education favored:It appears that we will increase public education spending by something in excess of 5 percent. It is less than we hoped and less than teachers deserve, but it's about all that is reasonably possible. In contrast other areas of state government will remain flat or max out at about 3 percent. Funding of capitol improvements and transportation will slow down until the economy looks better.
Tax shift: The newspapers recently reported a possible adjustment of .05 percent on sales tax. What the writers failed to note is that we have adopted a provision to allow persons who fund their own health insurance to do so with "before tax" dollars. That puts them on equal footing with persons who have employee furnished insurance. The net result is that there is no tax increases but there will be a small shift that will help those who are having difficulty purchasing health insurance. The overall burden on the public is the same. This small adjustment is the fair and right thing to do.
Water: Earlier I reported that both houses approved a measure to allow communities to bank water for future growth. In an effort to protect long-established water laws and water rights, I drafted some "intent" language that was adopted by the House and the Senate. It reemphasizes the concept of beneficial use and disallows "hoarding" or "speculating" in water rights. It also makes clear that the new law cannot be construed as "providing a mechanism for any out-of-state person or entity to acquire water rights in Utah for the purpose of providing water in another state." We design to keep our water within our borders and continue to put it to beneficial use.
Winding up/down Things are winding up. These last few days are a real whirlwind with little time for anything but hard-nosed workÃ¯Â¿Â½even sleep gets a little thin. I will report more after it's over. Thanks for everyone's good support. Unfortunately my e-mails have become almost impossible to respond to because so many have come from all over the country. I must have received a thousand e-mails on animal cruelty from regions as far away as Israel. I do my best to respond to those from our district so please keep me aware of your concerns. Best! Representative McIff disallows "hoarding" or "speculating" in water rights. It also makes clear that the new law cannot be construed as "providing a mechanism for any out-of-state person or entity to acquire water rights in Utah for the purpose of providing water in another state." We design to keep our water within our borders and continue to put it to beneficial use.
Thanks for everyone's good support. Unfortunately my e-mails have become almost impossible to respond to because so many have come from all over the country. I must have received a thousand e-mails on animal cruelty from regions as far away as Israel. I do my best to respond to those from our district so please keep me aware of your concerns.