Pyle: Utahns look for ways to get around their own Legislature

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’

William F. Buckley

A Utahn is someone who stands outside the Legislature, yelling “Do something!” (I’m still trying to think of an appropriate word as cool as “athwart.”)

The frustration has become so acute that folks around here are busy thinking up ways to do things — necessary, needful things — that our elected lawmakers refuse to even address. The senators and representatives who theoretically stand in for the people, seeing to our needs and doing our business, are basically inert.

Sometimes, of course, that’s good. As when they decide, as they did this year, that they will not pass a bill allowing any yahoo to carry a concealed weapon.

But, more often, it’s bad. So the thoughts and suggestions that those with the people’s true best interest in mind need to find some work-arounds.

• The Alliance for a Better Utah has seriously floated the idea of suing the state to force it to adequately fund public education.

This deserves to be called serious because it wouldn’t be the first time a state had been sued by its own people, or its own school districts, to demand that it pony up the necessary money to run a proper school system.

It has worked in some places because some states have written right into their constitutions language similar to that which begins Article X of the Utah Constitution:

“The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of the state’s education systems.”

Just Thursday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled, not for the first time, that the Legislature in that state was remiss in its constitutional duty to “provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools.”

Cough it up, the Kansas Supremes ordered, or the state’s public schools will not open next year.

That should get their attention.

The key, of course, is how one defines the word “maintain” or “maintenance.” The Kansas court has found over and over that it doesn’t just mean keeping the doors open. It means keeping up with growing, and increasingly diverse student bodies and with the need for a world-class school system so the state’s students have a chance.

Lawmakers in my old stomping grounds, some of them so conservative they’d frighten a Utah legislator, have done about everything they can to dodge this responsibility, and the court it rode in on, threatening not only to ignore the orders but to strip the state judiciary of its power and/or its budget. So the fight goes on.

• Another group of education advocates, names that include some of Utah’s 1 percent, isn’t threatening a lawsuit. But Education First wants a statewide advisory referendum on their suggestion to raise the basic state income tax rate from 5 percent to 5 and 7/8 percent, worth about $500 million a year for schools.

Even if it passes, the ballot question wouldn’t force the Legislature to do anything. The hope is that it would just give the — well, not courage, exactly — political cover to partially restore a big income tax cut that kicked in a decade ago and has been cutting maybe $1 billion a year from school finance.

• Frustrated by years of stonewalling from House Republicans, a couple of legislators have floated the idea of taking Medicaid expansion to a vote of the people. It, also, would be non-binding and so, given some Republicans’ visceral hatred of Obamacare, probably not enough to change anything even if it passed. Polls suggest it would win a majority, but that’s before the onslaught of anti-Medicaid TV ads that would be unleashed by the Utah branch of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

• And yet another dream of taking an issue over the heads of the Legislature, directly to the people, would be on the issue of allowing the medicinal use of marijuana. The real stuff, not the THC-free version that would be allowed by an utterly worthless alternative. The advantage of that plan is that it could be a real, petition-demanded initiative that would really exercise the public’s constitutional power to legislate, when the Legislature won’t.

The LDS Church is against that one. So we’d see if they’d also spend money on a barrage of TV ads. Or if getting burned by their support for the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 in California a few years ago has left them with a bad feeling about that sort of thing.

It all recalls Abraham Lincoln’s snarky memo to one of his more reticent Civil War commanders. The one about how if the general wasn’t going to be using his army for awhile, the president would like to borrow it.

If the members of the Legislature aren’t going to use their authority to do what the people want and need, then maybe the people should use all the tools in the kit to take that power back.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is pleased to note just how much Kansas government has gone to hell since he left that state.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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