Legislative Updates - 19 February 2018

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ fourth weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (four weeks into the session), there are about 680 numbered bills for this session. Following is discussion of some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.

Thoughts on channeling tax-dollars from state coffers to local government entities

It is natural and understandable that a government collecting billions of dollars of taxes per year (and maybe capable of forcibly collecting even more) might be viewed as a possible source of help for a variety of causes. And frequently the state government is viewed as a source of monetary help to various local government entities—especially local schools and school districts.

The trend of ever-increasing funding to local government entities from state taxes is, however, problematic. If a local school district (or county or city) desires to increase spending on one or more items, then the district (or other local entity) should figure out how to do so in the most transparent and sensible manner possible, and shoulder the cost as directly as possible—hopefully only after determining that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

But there are often proposals to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers, thus making these proposals seem as affordable as a “free lunch”, or reduced-price lunch, to the local government entities. At least three such bills mentioned in this weekly update (and there are probably several more such bills):

  • HB264, “Elementary School Counselor Program” authorizing the State Board of Education to award grants to local education agencies to provide targeted school-based mental health supports in elementary schools;
  • HB293, “Education Funding Amendments” increasing taxes and spending by tens of millions of dollars in local schools; and
  • HB326, “Intergenerational Poverty Initiative” channeling tax-dollars from state coffers to counties “to implement local solutions to address intergenerational poverty”.

The full cost of such programs is not fully understood, or worried about, by the local government entities running them. After all, much of the funding is not coming directly from them. Ultimately such methods increase social planning by distant bureaucrats, decrease accountability and transparency to the tax-paying citizenry, and compromise and distort local sovereignty and self-governance. In the words of former US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, “[N]o State or local government can accept funds from the Federal and remain independent in performing its functions, nor can the citizens exercise their rights of self-government under such conditions” (speech entitled “The Proper Role of Government”). The same could reasonably be said of local government entities accepting funds from the State.

Tax increase proposals catching our attention this week

Government and taxes in Utah are not particularly small, and should not be increased without a compelling reason. Here are two bills proposing large tax increases:

HB293, “Education Funding Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Last, would be a major taxing and spending increase.

According to the fiscal note, HB293’s proposed tax law changes are estimated to increase tax revenues to the State by $36 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, $56 million in FY2020, and $126 million in FY2022.

The fiscal note also states that HB293 would increase state appropriations to the State Board of Education – Minimum School Program by $57 million in FY2019, and by an estimated $82 million in FY2020.

HB293 awaits consideration by the House Education Committee.

We admit that we have not studied this 1900+ line bill, with its significant changes to Utah’s tax laws, to our satisfaction. But HB293 is another proposal to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers. Based on our study up to the present time, GrassRoots tentatively favors a “no” vote on HB293.

SB136, “Transportation Governance Amendments”, is sponsored by Senator Harper and Representative Schultz. According to SB136’s long title (a summary of the bill typically drafted by the drafting attorney in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel), SB136 would:

  • modify responsibilities, authority, makeup, and governance of the Department of Transportation, and of a large public transit district (like the Utah Transit Authority (UTA));
  • require a large public transit district to transition retirement benefits to fall under the provisions and oversight provided in the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act;
  • create the "Public Transportation Capital Investment Fund" within the Transportation Investment Fund of 2005;
  • increase the tax on hotel room stays and other accommodations and allocate the increased revenue to the Public Transportation Capital Investment Fund;
  • impose a deadline for a local government to impose certain local option sales and use taxes, after which the state imposes the portion of authorized local option sales and use taxes still unimposed by the local government; and
  • allow a county, city, or town to impose certain local option sales and use taxes without submitting the question to the county's, city's, or town's registered voters.

According to the fiscal note for SB136:

  • by means of various tax increases, the revenue to the state (mostly to the newly-created Public Transportation Capital Investment Fund, in particular) would increase by about $50 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, and by about $60 million in FY2020;
  • state spending would increase by about $3.5 million in FY2019 and by about $2.7 million in FY2020; and
  • additional revenues of about $129 million would be generated in FY2023 by means of increases of local “optional” transportation-related sales tax rates to 1.05% (and if the local governments do not exercise this “option” by July 1, 2022, then SB136 would have the State of Utah impose the 1.05% tax rate for them).

SB136 passed the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee 6-0 on Feb 5th and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

By directing that various local governments shall increase sales tax rates . . . or else the state will do it for them . . . SB136 looks like it could compromise and distort local self-government and accountability of local officials.

Admittedly, there is reason to believe there is a need to reform the UTA. And we must admit that we have not studied this 3700+ line bill to our satisfaction.

Based on our study up to the present time, GrassRoots tentatively favors a “no” vote on SB136.

Additionally, we suggest the following questions for consideration by our legislators (and other interested citizens):

  • Is SB136 effectively a bailout of a bankrupt UTA by the Utah Taxpayer?
  • On what do we plan to spend the extra hundreds of millions of dollars of additional tax revenues to be generated over the next few years?
  • Do we want to effectively mandate tax increases in 2023 by a 2018 Legislature?
  • If this increased taxation and spending is judged to be necessary, are there any proposals to cut taxes and spending elsewhere? If so, can they be tied to SB136?
  • Is the governance of a large public transit district (and any other government entities receiving tax-dollars under SB136) consistent with the principles of sound representative government? Are the decision-makers accountable to the people (whether through an elected Governor or through direct election)? Or are the decision-makers appointed through a byzantine process that leaves no true accountability to the people. Is the system transparent?
  • Have you read and understood SB136 sufficiently? (If not, then we would unequivocally urge a "no" vote.)

Other bills catching our attention this week

HB319, “Early Care and Learning Coordination Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Chavez-Houck, would:

  • create the Governor’s Early Childhood Commission (commission) in the Department of Workforce Services;
  • create the Early Childhood Utah Advisory Council (council) in the Department of Health;
  • describe the membership and the duties of the commission and the council; and
  • provide a sunset date of July 1, 2023.

The newly-created council’s duties would include serving “as an entity dedicated to improving and coordinating the quality of programs and services for children in accordance with the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 9837b” and advising the newly-created commission on various matters.

The newly-created commission’s duties would include “developing and coordinating a comprehensive delivery system for children in early childhood [meaning children 5 years of age or younger, including children in utero] that addresses the following four service areas: (i) family support and safety; (ii) health and development; (iii) early learning; and (iv) economic development. . . .”

Both the newly-created council and commission would be composed of an assortment of unelected bureaucratic appointees and special interest representatives (“experts”?), except that the chair of the commission would be the lieutenant governor.

For additional details on the duties and membership of the newly-created council and commission, see the PPS (Post-Post Script) at the end of this update, or just go to le.state.gov , and find and read the text of HB319.

HB319 passed the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 6-2 on Feb 15th and awaits consideration by full House.

HB319 appears to be a textbook example of how our growing welfare state is being shaped by groups of “experts”, bureaucrats, and special interest representatives with little or no accountability to the people. We should not be surprised when initiatives like this undermine our representative form of government.

HB319 may also be a textbook example of the distortion of state priorities by national legislation and mandates falling outside of the realm of powers delegated by the US Constitution. But, having said this, the Legislature does not have to go along with such national mandates; it can and should resist.

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB319.

HB326, “Intergenerational Poverty Initiative”, sponsored by Representative Redd, would:

  • establish a pilot program in the Department of Workforce Services to address intergenerational poverty by providing “funding for counties to implement local solutions to address intergenerational poverty”; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2019: to the Department of Workforce Services -- Intergenerational Poverty Plan Implementation Pilot Program a one-time appropriation: from the General Fund, One-time, $1,000,000.

HB326 passed the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 7-0 on Feb 15th and awaits consideration by full House.

HB326 is another proposal to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB326.

Updated status on bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB129, “Self-Defense Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Hinkins, would amend existing statute to provide that:

  • an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor even if there is a safe place to which the individual can retreat; and
  • an individual's failure to retreat is not relevant when determining whether the individual acted reasonably.

Additional coverage of HB129 may be found in our updates of January 29th and of February 5th.

HB129 passed the House 58-11 on February 12th, and awaits action by the Senate Rules Committee.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB129.

HB264, “Elementary School Counselor Program”, sponsored by Representative Eliason and Senator Howard Stephenson, would:

  • authorize the State Board of Education (board) to award grants to local education agencies (LEAs) to provide targeted school-based mental health supports in elementary schools;
  • authorize the board to make rules for grant applications and awards; and
  • require an LEA that receives a grant to submit an annual report to the board.

Additional coverage of HB264 may be found in our update of February 12th.

HB264 passed the House 59-11 on February 16th, and awaits action by the Senate.

HB264 is another proposal to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB264.

SB104Substitute, “Talent Development and Retention Strategy”, sponsored by Senator Millner and Representative Wilson, would:

  • create the Talent Development Incentive Loan Program to award an incentive loan to an individual who: a) pursues a qualifying degree for a qualifying job; and b) intends to work in a qualifying job in Utah;
  • provide for the Governor's Office of Economic Development to determine which jobs are qualifying jobs and the qualifying degrees for each qualifying job;
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2019: to the State Board of Regents - Student Assistance - Talent Development Incentive Loan Program, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $2,500,000.

Additional coverage of SB104Substitute may be found in our updates of February 5th and 12th.

SB104Substitute passed the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 8-2 on February 12th, and awaits action by the House Rules Committee. Due to its fiscal impact, SB104Substitute likely will not come to a House floor vote until the last week of the legislative session.

A $2.5 million tax cut would be more beneficial to the economy and to our freedom than this program. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB104Substitute.

If you have any questions about these bills, GrassRoots’ position on these bills, or related matters, please contact either of us or any other member of the Board of Utah GrassRoots.

Sincerely,

Steve Stromness
Vice-Chairman, Bill Review Coordinator, Utah GrassRoots
steven.stromness@gmail.com
435-637-5248

Don Guymon
Chairman, Utah GrassRoots
donguymon@gmail.com
801-574-9461

PS Do you want to contact a legislator? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “Legislators”.

Do you want to read and follow legislation yourself? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “2018 General Session Page” then click on “2018 Bills”.

Do you have other questions about how to effectively participate in the political process? Please contact us, and we will try to help as appropriate.

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Would you like to help us with review of legislation in a small or large way? Consider taking a special look at bills sponsored by your own representative or senator. Please contact us with your findings and/or with any questions we might be able to help you with.