Final report from the Legislature
The 2009 legislative session is history. It was a roller coaster ride from beginning to end. Midway through, it appeared to me that we would be short some $556 million. In that context, I suggested that we should consider restoring the uniform sales tax. That was before the federal bailout. In the end, we were short $561 million, but covered the deficiency with the bailout money that arrived in the nick of time. We were able to reduce budget cuts from 19 percent to 9 percent with public education at 5.5 percent. That is far better than we had hoped.
I think my colleagues did a great job under very difficult circumstances. Everything pulled together in the last 10 days. With our pristine triple A bond rating, we were able to bond for new buildings and for highway construction including I-15 in Utah County and other projects throughout the state. These projects will reduce the ranks of the unemployed and help stimulate a sagging economy.
It now appears that our local school districts will be able to avoid laying off valued teachers and staff. They may have to employ some imaginative approaches, such as furloughs, but we have given them maximum flexibility to solve problems at the local level. State employees will take a hit, including an extra $30 per month for health insurance, but most will keep their jobs. That's a "big deal" in my book.
In a collaborative effort with the other representatives and senators that serve south central Utah, we saved from the verge of extinction over 60 percent of our jail reimbursement funds. We also kept open the regional juvenile facility and related programs headquartered in Richfield. These were at serious risk until the last few days.
I successfully advanced a measure that caps at $1 million an indigent defense fund for cases which arise out of the Gunnison prison.
This will save Sanpete County $85,000 per year beginning now and continuing so long as the fund remains at the current level. The budget people were somewhat reluctant to let this revenue go, but ultimately all agreed that it was the right thing to do.
I was also privileged to sponsor and shepherd to a successful conclusion a simple measure to correct an unfair provision that has long been a part of Utah law. Currently, a person injured by the fault of another loses the major portion of his claim if, prior to settlement, he dies from an unrelated cause such as a heart attack.
I advanced the measure on behalf of my old friend, Carlyle Simonsen, whose claim met this fate. Neither he nor his family will personally benefit from the change in the law, but others will in the future. Simple fairness was the driving force.
We also engaged in some ethics reform. Legislators will not be able to use leftover funds for personal use, and upon leaving office will be prohibited from serving as a lobbyist during the following year. These are steps in the right direction.
Sometimes the success of a legislative session is not only measured by the laws adopted, but some that were rejected. I won't detail those, but many existed.
All in all, I think this was by far the most difficult session in my experience, but in many respects the most successful. We made significant cuts on the expenditures side, but stopped short of the kind of shrinkage that would contribute to the very problems we are trying so hard to avoid.
In the process, we have maintained our rainy day funds and are reasonably well prepared for more stormy weather.
I offer one caution and one suggestion. The caution is that there may be a time when outside funds (such as the federal bailout) dry up and rainy day funds are expended. The suggestion is that each of us commit to maintain excellence in education and other basic state services, while ensuring that we continue our leading role in efficiency.
Utah remains the safest place to be, even in tough times.
It is a great privilege to represent the good citizens of Emery, Sanpete, and Sevier Counties.