Monthly Archives

February 2013

Preparing for the Fiscal Challenges Ahead

By | Federal Money, Fiscal Responsibility, Governance | No Comments

A bill package called Financial Ready Utah is being presented to the Utah Legislature. Senators Henderson, Harper and Osmond recently held a press conference to explain the purpose of the legislation is to prepare Utah to be lesss dependent on federal money. We cannot just sever ourselves from all federal funds, and I am not sure that we will ever want to do that. But we certainly need to be more cautious about how much we are accepting and the strings and requirements that come with the federal money we do accept. We need to be more self-sufficient and be less dependent on federal money. This move from dependency needs to be happening on every level right down to our families.
Here is a link to the press conference and the seven bills being proposed to move us in this direction.

The Financial Ready Utah website has been prepared in conjunction with these ideas. Here is the link:
This is an interactive website. Please contribute your ideas on frugal living and debt reduction and help spread the word.

Senate president Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, Richard Ellis the State Treasurer and John Dougall the Utah State Auditor, co-authored an article encouraging everyone to be involved in preparing for the upcoming financial challenges.

We continue to work on our job of oversight of our state funds. In order to help you understand how the Utah State Budget is divided out, I’ve provided a graphic. As you can see the majority of the budget is oversight through careful management of resources and working to fund essential services. Changes in federal funding, and managing our explosive growth while trying to meet the current needs present a real challenge.
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News from the Senate

By | Legislative Update | No Comments

Helping you stay informed and educated.

I wanted to highlight a few bills from the first and second weeks of the session.

SB12  sponsored by Senator VanTassell protects information collected by UTA and classifies customer account information and travel data as a private record under GRAMA. Senator Reid’s bill, SB 20 deals with tightening the security level of data stored by the state. This bill is a response to the data breach last year that compromised the health information of 780,000 Utahans, and cost our state hundreds of thousand of dollars. It directs the Utah State Department of Technology Services to adhere as closely as possible to government and industry best practices for security.

Senator Stephenson’s SB 34 Special Elections Date for Ballot Propositions would make it so that special elections dealing with tax increases be allowed only on regular elections dates. This will make public awareness and participation easier and add to the transparency of the issues.

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SB 19, sponsored by Senator Van Tassell. It dealt with safety issues when truck drivers use cell phones. We took a moment to honor Utah Highway Patrol trooper Aaron Beesley who fell to his death during a rescue attempt. Our Troopers portray courage, bravery and professionalism, often at great risk. I am grateful to them and their families for the sacrifices they make.

We passed HJR6. I would like to clarify this bill. There have been some news reports that by passing this legislation, we are giving ourselves a raise. That is not the case. It is not a raise. It defines per diem limits and procedures. For years, the Legislature paid the bulk of their compensation through housing or food stipends. This bill ensures they receive compensation through an actual salary. It makes all compensation much more accountable and more transparent. Under the new plan each legislator will receive a salary of $16,380 per year.

SJR1, sponsored by Senator Stevenson clarifies that performance notes and fiscal notes be handled in the same way. These notes are essential to passing bills responsibly.  A fiscal note is attached to every bill and tells us how much funding the legislation will require if it is implemented into law. The performance note will require the bill to set functioning goals. It allows us to ask questions and get answers to questions like: How is this program expected to help the state’s citizens? Which citizens would be helped; would any be hurt? What key performance indicators will be used to track the progress of the program? Is anything being does to improve current deficiencies? Having this sort of information is critical to making value judgments on potential legislation.

SB 122 is a good example of the usefulness of a fiscal note. The requested amount is $240,000. It is not much money in terms of the entire budget, but even so, it is necessary for us to do a cost/benefit for each proposed program so that even small amounts of money are spent wisely.

SCR 3 is a Resolution addresses the advantages of local control when dealing with endangered species. There are many past instances where local conservation timeline efforts have been very efficient. This Resolution supports Iron County in their local efforts to remove prairie dogs from endangered species list.

Congressman Chaffetz spoke to us on Friday. He said that his number one concern is the lack of fiscal discipline from the federal government–the United States currently pays $700 million in interest each day. In the first quarter of this fiscal year entitlement spending increased 16%. He also reiterated the importance of balancing the budget with spending cuts, not tax increase. It made me appreciate Utah’s balanced, well-managed budget process.

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Supporting Israel

Sponsored Legislation

SCR 4, was heard in the Senate Business and Labor Committee. I am the sponsor of this Resolution. It states that the Utah Legislature and the Governor support Israel in its legal, historical, moral and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon its own land.

The bill also commends Israel for its cordial and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States and with Utah. The bill also recognizes that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others and that peace can be afforded the region only through a whole and united Israel.

Committee Assignments and Budget Oversight

The Committees, consisting of both House and Senate members continue to work on individual budget as part of preparing the final budget to be passed. Education expenditures make up the largest percentage (just over half) of the State’s budget. The Education Appropriations Committee meets frequently to discuss how to allocate the available funding. They are looking at efficiency levels of the money being spent. And although it will be a few days before final numbers are available, we are seeing a sizable share of the budget will go to Medicaid reform.

With such large portions of our budget allocated to Education and entitlement programs, we have worked to anticipate this issue through wise management. Unlike many states, Utah is not in the red. We do not know how much we will see from Federal funds, but we, as a state are in a much better place than many states, to address these critical issues. It will be challenging, but I, for one am glad that we are not addressing it from a deficit position.

The Infrastructure and General Government Committee is tasked with allocating funds for state buildings and properties. For example, one of the requests made to the committee was from Southern Utah University. They were asking that $2.7 million be appropriated to them to purchase property that could be used for expansion of university housing and parking.

The committees I am serving on are:

Appropriations:

Business, Economic Development, and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee

Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee<

Retirement and Independent Entities Appropriations Subcommittee

Standing:
Senate Business and Labor Committee (Chair)

Senate Retirement and Independent Entities Committee

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee

Interim:

Legislative Information Technology Steering Committee

Senate Business and Labor Confirmation Committee (Chair)

Senate Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Confirmation Committee

Senate Retirement and Independent Entities Confirmation Committee

Working to keep you informed

Later this week, I’ll be sending reports of last week’s work at the Legislature. Until then…

Bills I’m sponsoring

By | Governance, Legislation, Transparency | No Comments

I wanted to introduce you to some of the bills and issues, I’m working on including an additional measure to increase accessibility for the public to public records through enhanced GRAMA efforts.

Last year, I worked and passed a bill that enhanced government transparency and access to records. I’m working to take transparency even further by increasing access and reducing the cost of the access through an innovative approach to records management. Please watch the video to learn more about this important effort.

Here’s a link to my sponsored legislation.

There is a link next to the name of the bill that will take you to the tracking page of that bill. You can read the text, look at any amendments, and even click on a link to hear the audio for the Committee and Floor Debates.

There’s also a useful feature that allows you to track bills with a notice to your email of any revisions. We are trying to make it easier for citizens to be more involved in the workings of government.

A few highlights

SB54-Licensing of Nursing Care Facility Beds – This bill amends the licensing of non-Medicaid nursing care facility beds for a facility with 100 or more beds and provides continuity of care provisions for patients who have exhausted Medicare benefits.

SCR004-Standing with Israel – This concurrent resolution of the Legislature and the Governor recognizes Israel’s legal, historical, moral, and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense.

SB67 – Consumer Protection Revisions – This bill prohibits sellers from imposing a surcharge on a transaction paid for with a financial transaction card.
SB106 – Unemployment Tax Amendment -This bill modifies the Employment Security Act by amending the unemployment
10 insurance contribution rate for employers.

SB161-Restitution Amendments – This bill amends the Individual Income Tax Act, the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure, and provisions related to the Division of Finance to assist in, and increase, the collection of restitution for crime victims

SB168 – Certified Public Accountant Licensing Amendments – This bill modifies the Certified Public Accountant Licensing Act and sets educational requirements and board approval for taking qualifying exams.

This link also shows you bills that are currently in process.

Working toward more transparency

If you haven’t done so, please take a moment and take my survey. Just click on the button to the right and it will take you to my website. It helps me to have your opinions as I’m trying to create the best policy decisions.

Later this week, I’ll be sending reports of the first weeks at the Legislature. Until then…

Utah’s Economy, Healthcare Issues and Following the Legislature

By | Economy, Federal Money, Legislative Update, State Budget, Transparency | No Comments

Utah’s Strong Economy

Helping you stay informed and educated.

Here are my thoughts about upcoming legislation that keeps our state healthy for the long term. I hope you will watch:

Sound Policy and Sound Management

Utah continues to recover from the last recession in an admirable position, #4 in the nation.

Here are a few statistics that may be of interest:

Unemployment decline from recession peak: 3.1 percentage points
Peak unemployment: 8.3%
Current unemployment: 5.2% (tied-5th lowest)
GDP growth 2011: 2.0% (8th highest)

You can read more about Utah’s recovery in the The States That Recovered Most (and Least) from the Recession.

For the third year in a row, Forbes named Utah as America’s “Best State for Business”. Since 2006, our economy’s annual expansion rate has averaged at 2.3%. The national average for the same years is .05%. Our energy costs, which are 27% below the national average and the fact that we are one of only seven states who still has an AAA bond rating–something that even the United States no longer has–are two of the factors that have given us that number one ranking. Here is the link to Forbe’s article Utah Tops the list of Best States for Business.

I am optimistic about our revenue because of our sound management practices. We are a well-managed state, however, we are still part of the national economy. The federal government currently borrows 46 cents of every dollar they spend. That is not sustainable. 40% of Utah’s spending is from federal money, so that means that just over one-third of what we use as spending money on our state programs comes from a source that is not financially sound and over which that we have no control. As a result, we must be especially prudent. It seems that the wisest thing to do right now is adopt a “wait and see” approach until we see what happens at the federal level before approving new expenditures.

Healthcare’s Challenge

Another area of focus will be healthcare options. The health exchange system created by Utah several years ago was just given preliminary approval by the federal government. I am pleased that we have been granted that provisional waiver. It gives us some options we would not otherwise have had. However, the final decision has not been made as to which exchange system we will use.

Currently there are two camps of thought on this subject. One is that Utah can indeed do this on our own. We have done a good job with what we have done so far. Our health exchange (called Avenue H) is market based, which is important for our economy and if we take this option we will have the flexibility to make the program work for the individual needs of our state. The other line of thought is that the mandate for health care was a federal initiative and therefore the federal government should have to deal with the implementation and administration and any problems that come with that.

Utah is under a rather intense time frame to make this critical decision. If we do decide to use our own exchange, it will actually take quite a bit of work and money to get it to exactly the point where the federal government will fully accept it.

As you can see there will be many things to consider. I will do my best to represent you in the decisions we need to make.

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Tracking Bills in the Session

The bills to be discussed during the session are being written everyday. If you would like to keep track of any sort of legislation or any particular bill you can do it very easily on our website. Here is the link to the bill search page.

There are plenty of ways for you to keep track of what is going on during the session.

Every floor session of both houses is live streamed and every committee meeting is broadcast. The links will be on the main web page each day under the Audio/Video tab. (On that same tab you can even hear archived recordings from past sessions.)

You can follow the Senate on Facebook or the Senate Republicans on Facebook.

Here is my Facebook page.

The Senate Twitter handle is @utahsenate.
The Senate Majority Twitter handle is @utahsenategop.

The Senate also has a blog where you can read some more in-depth explanations about what we are doing and leave your comments.

Click this link to email me. My phone is 801-361-5802.

Let me know if you have any concerns or questions. Because session can get very busy, please be patient if it takes me a while to respond. I will do my very best to answer whatever question you have as soon as possible.

We are working harder than ever to make government open, transparent and accessible.

It is an honor to represent you. In my next email home, I’d like to introduce you to some of the bills and issues, I’m working on including an additional measure to increase accessibility for the public to public records through enhanced GRAMA efforts.