Legislative wrap-up report by Kay McIff
It's great to be home. It was a difficult session. I am grateful to be able to work with Senators Okerlund and Hinkins and Representatives Noel, Painter, and Wright. Together, we represent much of rural Utah and overlap in Emery, Sanpete, and Sevier Counties. The preface to the session was a troubling event involving the majority leader of the senate.
The postscript was even more troubling and coincidentally involved the majority leader of the house. In both instances, the breaches of moral and legal codes speak for themselves and require no embellishment. They serve to remind us that no one is exempt, that "where much is given, much is required," and that when we let down our guard, the price extracted can be devastating to victims, perpetrators, and their families.
Both of the men involved have resigned from office. Those incidents are behind us and should not unduly color our view about the quality of public service in our state. The truth is that the citizens of Utah will not tolerate what may be tolerated in other places. I wish to emphasize that between the preface and the postscript, there was a lot of difficult and praiseworthy work performed by highly committed, capable, and responsible representatives of the people.
As the session began, it was clear that we would have to deal with more than a half-billion dollar shortfall in revenue as well as inadequate reserves in retirement accounts. We were painfully aware that the hard decisions would affect the lives of real people who teach our children, patrol our highways, and make Utah a great place to live.
I was personally committed to do all within our power to lessen the burden as much as possible. In the end, we kept all the troopers on the roads, exempted existing employees from future changes in the retirement system, reduced cuts in higher education by more than half what was originally proposed, and limited the cut to public education to a half of 1 percent. It wasn't easy.
Is this a bright picture? Not entirely. Is it better than what we anticipated at the beginning? Much better. What about next year? Sooner or later we will need to come to grips with the fact that the tax reductions and changes we made two years ago when the economy was on a roll may have to be revisited to some modest degree. We cannot maintain the current imbalance between ongoing revenue and necessary expenditures.
There are many of us whose children are now in the work force. They received the enormous benefit of good public schools and great institutions of higher education. Renee and I want no less for our grandchildren and the same for the children and grandchildren of all who reside in our state.
Utah's future in the national and international economy of today's world will be largely dependent upon how well we manage the challenge of educating and inspiring the youth. Our ancestors were willing to sacrifice in that effort. We may all have to dig a little deeper, but those decisions await another day.
On other fronts, we made progress in addressing health care costs unless our efforts are preempted by Washington. We protected private property rights, while recognizing reasonable access for recreation. We will continue to work on this challenging area.
I am particularly pleased that we removed the juvenile receiving center in Richfield from the budget chopping block. It serves rural counties within 80 miles in all directions.
We also appropriated some $6 million to reimburse counties who house state prisoners. Half of this was moved to the "ongoing revenue" side of the budget, which provides some protection for future years. We approved additional flexibility for local school districts to move dollars within the different segments of their budgets, thereby enhancing their ability to protect jobs and maximize use of resources.
Why not? These local officials are better equipped to make these decisions than the legislature is. Over the course of last year, I was privileged to help fashion a solution to the excessive and expensive delay in post conviction proceedings in death penalty cases. The final step was passage of legislation that dovetails with a change in court rules. What was initially pitched as a necessary constitutional amendment was resolved in a profoundly simple and straightforward cooperative effort between the three branches of state government. The result should eliminate these high profile cases from being bounced back and forth between state and federal courts.
Thanks to all who supplied input and support. It's a privilege to represent the heartland of Utah.