Budgets. We are moving toward the home stretch and budgetary matters remain unfinished and dominant. The federal bailout distorts all discussions. In its absence, we are looking at approximately a billion dollars less income than a year ago. Our cuts last September and early February total only about one-third of this amount. We are left with a $600 million dollar challenge.
I continue to encourage a combination of modest cuts that will not cripple our infrastructure coupled with some bonding, use of some rainy day funds, the federal money, restoration of the uniform sales tax rate to include food, and some selected fee increases.
The budgetary discussions will continue into the 2011 fiscal year, so look for all of the above listed items to remain on the table. What we do this year will depend largely on how much pressure is relieved by the federal bailout package. In this process, we need to be careful not to eat the "seed corn" and not to build excessive reliance on one-time money.
Schools and kids. For the third year in a row, the House rejected a measure that would have forced children of undocumented workers to pay non-resident college tuition, even though they attended high school in Utah. Arguments run both ways, as do the lives of these young people. I come down on the side of those who have qualified themselves and want to become educated and productive. There is little to be gained from limiting their access to education. History has not been kind to any nation or culture that narrowed the opening of the school house doors.
Public lands. We have consistently taken a position against efforts to restrain or reduce access to public lands and in favor of responsible utilization of our natural resources. We have, by resolution, encouraged our national leaders to follow this course.
Water. A year ago we authorized municipalities to "bank" water for future use. Utah's constitution prohibits a municipality from selling or leasing this water. That is a problem because the water will be used by someone. I am sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would allow a city or town to lease, but not sell, the water until it is required for public use. The measure has good support.
Fishing access. House Bill 187 is receiving a lot of attention. I am attempting to help its sponsor with language that will strike a balance between property rights and public access. It is not easy. Both are extremely important. We will probably debate this bill during the first week of March.
Education. I continue to work with local school superintendents and boards in resisting an equalization program that would increase the tax levy and shift dollars to growing districts along the Wasatch Front. We don't resist an equalization effort, but it will require an extensive collaborative effort and a recognition of the needs of small, less affluent districts.