David Hinkins heads to the State Capitol.
It may be David Hinkins first stint as a state senator, but he is already up to his neck in assignments and issues before the session of the state legislature begins in late January.
"This has been fun so far, but we have a lot of work to do," he said in a cell phone conversation as he drove through Salt Lake on his way to the state capitol for a meeting.
Hinkins, the first Republican to serve as a state senator representing Castle Country in decades, said that he has already been able to garner some standing that it has traditionally been hard for Democrats from the area to get.
"I am on a number of committees this year and I am already the chair of the appropriations committee for Workforce Services," he said. "I am also on the appropriations committee for Natural Resources as well as on the standing committee for Health and Welfare."
In those capacities Hinkins can have some substantial input on funding and policies toward those areas.
Like everyone in government these days, Hinkins says the shrinking state budget will be a big deal during the next session of the legislature.
"I believe we will still be looking at a 7.5 percent cut for state agencies for the rest of this year (until July 1) and then next year the cuts to all agencies could be up to 15 percent," he stated. "However I do believe the cuts to public education and Health and Welfare will not be that large if they have one at all. Lower cuts could be accomplished by bringing in rainy day fund money to supplement what is needed to keep these areas at present funding levels."
Gov.Jon Huntsman Jr. has proposed that the cuts to all agenices be smaller by taking money out of the roads and highway funds to keep the percentages down. However, Hinkins believes doing that would be a mistake in an era of cheap labor and materials.
"Look at what we could get for our money if we do road construction and rebuild projects now," he said. "Steel is down 50 percent over what it was last year and concrete is nearly down as much. Contractors don't have as much work, so they will be hungry to bid for projects that they can work on. The new national administration is talking about making money available for public works projects, particularly roads, and we are talking about cutting those funds. To me it makes sense to continue with projects and to get more for our money."
Hinkins is also going to be working on some bills and resolutions of his own. One resolution will be to support sending 200 state prisoners to a new jail that San Juan County plans to build.
"They need the state to commit to filling some of the beds at that jail before they can get the financing for it," he stated.
He is also working on a bill that has to do with the attourney general's office as well as another concerning a monopoly in the car salvaging business that is taking place in Utah County.
He also says that he will be doing all he can for the College of Eastern Utah concerning funding. In early December, CEU sent out letters to more than 40 faculty members who were told their contracts for next year may not be renewed because of funding concerns. What will actually happen remains to be seen, but with a possible 15 percent cut looming from the state legislature beginning July 1, some positions in all aspects of the college including faculty, professional staff, administration and in the classified ranks are at risk.
"I just want to be sure we can do what we can to keep as many people employed as possible at the college. We also want to keep tuition from rising more than necessary to continue operations there," he concluded.