July 2017 Interim Session Update

Another month, another day of interim session meetings up at the Utah Legislature. As always, Alliance for a Better Utah was up at the Capitol to monitor our legislators and learn more about the topics they are studying.

July’s interim session consisted of meetings with the appropriations subcommittees. If you don’t know what appropriations are, here’s a quick primer:

After the Governor proposes his budget each year, the Legislature reviews that budget and then approves all funding for the state government. It does this through eight appropriations subcommittees, each of which consider specific portions of the budget. These eight subcommittees then report to the Executive Appropriations Committee, consisting of House and Senate leadership from both parties, which reports out a final appropriations bill that is then debated and passed by the House and Senate bodies.

In case that was a little too dense, appropriations meetings basically just consist of a lot of big numbers. And during Interim, the subcommittees are studying the issues under their purview to get a sense of how much they will need to spend (“appropriate”) on those issues.

Now, here are our highlights (and lowlights) of this month’s Interim Session:

Good News!

The Executive Appropriations Committee learned that the state is on its way to have a $130 million budget surplus next year. $80 million of this would be going into the education budget where it is sorely needed, $10 million would be going into the transportation fund, and the rest would go into the general fund. $50 million is quite a chunk of change! Hopefully lawmakers put it towards something we actually need, like finally expanding Medicaid now that the ACA is here to stay or helping out the homeless population.

Bad News…

For some of us, it’s been quite a relief not having to hear news about our least favorite congressman for the past month. But Chaffetz’ departure from the House has not been a relief to the budgets of counties in the Third Congressional District. The special election will end up costing taxpayers $1.5 MILLION! Luckily, $1 million of this has been saved because the special election was combined with the municipal elections happening over the next few months. However, counties are now stuck with the bill for the extra $500,000, and these counties don’t have huge budgets! These counties are now asking the state to help them pay for these extra costs, but maybe they should be asking Chaffetz to help them foot the bill because it’s his fault he decided he didn’t want to sleep on that cot in D.C. anymore? Maybe he should have thought of that before he ran for office again…

Rant of the Month

There is always at least one legislator who gets riled up on an issue and ends up ranting for way too long until everyone in the public audience is just wishing he would shut up. And there’s always at least a 50% chance that legislator is Rep. Mike Noel. Noel is very passionate about issues he cares about, particularly when that issue involves the opportunity to trash his least favorite organization: the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (or in his words, “those bunny lovers, tree huggers, and rock lickers”). To Noel, the Brian Head wildfire is mostly the fault of SUWA because “forest management is now in the hands of environmentalists.” This so incensed him that he even started yelling at the media during the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands for all the “lies” they print in their newspapers. Stunning to see a legislator behave this way, but it is also great entertainment.

Noel also similarly ranted during the Commission on Federalism. After committing to send legislators to an Article V Rules Convention meeting to be held in Arizona in September (this may have been one of the most concerning things to happen during this Interim Session), the Commission (led by Rep. Ken Ivory) went on to the topic of ranting against the federal government for its role in the Brian Head wildfire. Nevermind that the Forest Service is severely underfunded, state leaders are incensed that the Service is not clearing forests fast enough to prevent these wildfires. They will now be sending a letter to those federal agencies responsible for forest management, claiming these agencies are usurping the state’s police power to provide for the safety and welfare of Utah, and demanding they relinquish control to the state’s rightful jurisdiction.

We’ll see how that goes. I’m sure their response will be great.

Quote of the Month

During the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, legislators were discussing technology in schools. Senator Howard Stephenson, an avid supporter of education technology and software, was bemoaning the fact that software is not being used enough by teachers in the classrooms. For now, we’ll gloss over the fact that the Legislature handpicks certain software companies and mandates their use in classrooms (aren’t Republicans normally against one-size-fits-all approaches?). During his musing on how to get teachers to teach the way he would like them to teach, he asked: “Are we going to have to wait like Moses did, wandering 40 years in the wilderness for the old ones to die off before we can really embrace this with fidelity?”

Well, no wonder we have a teacher shortage problem. We already know legislators don’t like to pay them enough but now they’re just waiting for the teachers to die off! Stephenson did later clarify that he did not really want teachers to die — his comment was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek — and he admits he should have chosen his words with greater care. We’d suggest that instead, he just let the teachers teach. They are the ones closest to the children and have been trained to do their jobs.

That’s all for this month! Comment below if you have any questions, or shoot me an email at chase@betterutah.org. The August Interim Session will be held from August 22-24. Find out more at le.utah.gov. Until then, this has been Better Utah on the Hill.

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