To: Senate Republicans,
Subject: May Letter Home Template
Date: Wed May 28 10:46:29 MDT 2014
Here is some content for your May letter home.
Nice to see all of you last week!
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In May we began interim session. For most of the rest of the year we will meet once a month in committees comprised of both House and Senate members and begin to craft and discuss proposed legislation for the 2015 session; discuss issues that have been put on the Master Study list; hear reports from the departments that the committee oversees; and hear reports on the programs we have funded.
I serve on the ********* and ****** Interim Committees. Our most pressing issues will be *************** Here is a link to the interim schedule for the 2014 year: http://le.utah.gov/interim/2014/pdf/00002875.pdf Schedules for individual meetings times are or will be available on the legislature's website (http://le.utah.gov/#iframe) on the calendar tab.
Each of the interim committees is now required to devote part of its first meeting to addressing long-term planning issues and challenges for the state departments over which the committee has jurisdiction.
When the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee met they choose to meet this requirement by receiving reports form the executive directors and commissioners of the Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Food, and the Department of Environmental Quality. (An overview of the goals and budgets of this committee can be found on page 197 of the link to the pdf of the budget referenced below.)
Amanda Smith, the Executive Director of the Department of Environmental Quality told the committee that federal funding is consistently decreasing, but the state is still required to meet the federal air quality standards. The result of those decreases will probably mean that next session there will be more requests to increase fees to meet the EPA compliance costs. She also discussed the problematic fact that upgrading refineries to produce Teir3 fuel will increase the refineries point source emissions to the level that they will be noncompliant with the EPA standards. This puts Utah in a very difficult position.
Also during the meeting the committee reviewed an audit and had a discussion as to what would be the best thing to do with the State Fair Grounds. You can hear all the reports and the discussion of the committee here: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17547&meta_id=234749
The Transportation Committee held a long discussion on different fuel taxes; the possibility of an increase in the gas tax; and federal highway funds to states--or the lack thereof. Here is a link to that meeting: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17546&meta_id=234747
In the Education Committee, there was a very interesting debate on Common Core standards, especially how math curriculum should be handled and possibly changed. If you would like to listen here is the link: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17546&meta_id=234747
Our appropriations bills have been reconciled and we now have the actual budget numbers. Our total state budget from all funding sources is $13.5 billion. This is a 4.7% increase over last year's budget of $12.9 billion. The biggest portion of the current budget, 34% goes to Social Services--mostly Medicaid. Public Education gets 30% and Higher Education receives 12% of the "all funds" budget. The remainder is allocated as follows: Law Enforcement 5%; General Government 7%; Roads 7%; Debt 3%; and Buildings 2%.
The income source for just over one-fourth (27%) of our state budget comes from federal funds. 25% comes from state income tax and 17% is generated from sales tax. The remainder comes from fees, levies, etc.
Most of the revenue we receive is very prescriptive as to how it is spent, especially the money from federal sources. This is part of what is meant when it is said that there are "strings attached to federal funds." States are not given money to allocate as they deem prudent; rather funds that are received must be allocated as prescribed, with respective program, distribution and accountability requirements from which states cannot deviate.
As a result because of the federal requirements associated with the federal funds, our state legislature really allocates and spends only about 42% or $5.8 billion of the total budget. Our job is to ensure that spending does not exceed the revenue in the budgets that the state does control. When you realize that the legislature really only has the ability to allocate a budget of just under $6 billion and 48% of that goes to Public Education and an additional 15% goes to Higher Education, it is hard to argue where legislative priorities lie.
There is also money appropriated to education in other budgets that do not actually lie within either of those two main education budgets, but still serve education purposes. For example, $22.5 million was given to the Retirement and Independent Entities Committee for the Utah Education Network and $21.5 million went to the appropriations subcommittee for Business, Economic Development and Labor to fund the STEM Action Center.
If you were to add up all the allocations to various state budgets that deal with education, you would see that in all, 66% of the money that the legislature can allocate (totaling $3.9 billion) goes to funding education.
"New money" is the term we give to funds that comes from revenue growth and unused money in existing funds. In this year's budget, there was $496 million of "new money." Almost 80% of that "new money" went directly to education.
$61 million was given to the State School Board to accommodate student growth; $63 million was given to them to increase the WPU or Weighted Pupil Unit (that is a 2.5% increase from the 2013-14 school year). Salary negotiations for teachers take place between the teachers' union and the districts. The Legislature does not set or control teacher salaries, so even though we appropriated an increase in the WPU funds, what is actually done with those funds depends upon the decisions and negotiations of individual districts or charter schools.
If you would like to see more details, here is a link to the 378 page budget and appropriations report from the fiscal analysts office: http://le.utah.gov/interim/2014/pdf/00003172.pdf.
When the ACA (Obamacare) was passed and implemented it was assumed that states would expand Medicaid to adults with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level. However, the Supreme Court struck down that requirement saying that the states had the option to cover those individuals, but could not be compelled to do so. As a result nearly half of the states have chosen not to expand or to implement their expansion differently. Utah is one of those states that have not decided exactly how to handle expansion option. During the session one House bill, three Senate bills and a proposal from the Governor dealing with Medicaid were considered, but only one Senate bill that provided one-time funds to public and non-profit agencies to assist under- and un-insured individuals passed. No final decision as to how to definitively address Medicaid expansion was made. What was decided, however, was that the Health Reform Task Force will meet to coordinate, evaluate and then make recommendation on those proposals. Here is a link to a video that explains the current Medicaid options: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Om4HY6defw&feature=youtu.be
And here is a link to the Task Force meeting that was held in May where expansion requirements and options were discussed: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17563&meta_id=234835
I am cautious about the need to hold a special session on the Medicaid issue. However, if there is sufficient vetting and enough opportunity for public input on all the various possibilities of the final bill, a special session might be plausible.
352 newly passed laws took effect in May. This link lists all of them: http://le.utah.gov/asp/passedbills/passedbills.asp and this link highlights some of the more interesting bills that were passed: http://le.utah.gov/session/2014/pdfdoc/2014SelectedHighlights.pdf
Governor Herbert vetoed two bills, HB 102 and SB 257 and one line in HB003. Three bills went into law without the Governor's signature: HB 357S1 (Budgetary Amendments), SB241S1 (County Jail Contracting Amendments), SB269 (Annual Leave Program for State Employees). Here is a link to the Governor's final action list: http://www.utah.gov/governor/news_media/article.html?article=9869
Nine bills were passed regarding air quality and $3.5 million was appropriated for Air Quality Research, Clean Air Initiative and for additional air quality employees and $2 million was appropriated to new tax incentives for those who are converting homes from wood burning fuel or purchasing alternative fuel vehicles. Another program that was funded this year called CARROT (Clean Air Retrofit, Replacement, and Off-Road Technology) will provide loans and grants to individuals or businesses who implement clean air technologies for vehicles and equipment. Right now Utah is seventh in the nation for the percentage of electric car sales. These funds might help increase that number.
Like all issues, air quality should be approached cautiously. As the testimony in the last interim Natural Resources Committee pointed out there are financial costs to all regulations we mandate.
Another law that is now in effect is SB 253 which fully bans the use of a cell phone while driving for anything except making a call or using a phone's navigation system. Now if you are texting, sending or reading emails, or reading something on the internet while driving you could be charged with a class C misdemeanor and a $100 fine or a class B misdemeanor if you cause harm while driving and using the electronic device. A class B could land you six months is jail and a fine of as much as $1,000. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57942579-78/law-cellphone-driving-stops.html.csp
Most states have some level of distracted driving laws. Here is a link to a comparison of the state laws. http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html
April 15th was tax day--a necessary evil, but certainly no ones favorite day. Here is an interesting article on where your federal tax money goes: http://blog.heritage.org/2014/04/15/taxes-2013-2014-where-did-your-tax-money-go/?utm_source=heritagefoundation&utm_medium=email&utm_term=readthis&utm_content=140419&utm_campaign=saturday Here is a link that can show you how your Utah state income tax is allocated. http://www.utah.gov/taxpayer-receipt/ and here is an interesting article that shows state taxpayers ROI on the tax money they pay their state http://wallethub.com/edu/state-taxpayer-roi-report/3283/. Once again, Utah is doing well in the rankings and our current economic outlook is good as we outpace the rest of the nation with a 2.9 percent growth rate and a 3.8 percent unemployment rate. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865602022/Report-shows-local-economy-continues-to-grow.html
This study shows that the current business and economic conditions here in Utah is promising enough that it is boosting consumer confidence. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/money/57879372-79/percent-utahns-consumer-business.html.csp
Here are a few more Utah accolades:
This study looked at the states that offer the best quality of life for seniors and ranks Utah as the third best place in the nation to retire. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/retirement/best-places-retire-how-state-ranks.aspx
Utah's export economy is doing remarkably well.
Here is more information on Utah's international trade efforts: http://business.utah.gov/international/
And of course recreation in Utah still contributes heavily to our favorable economy. http://utahpolicy.com/index.php/features/featured-articles/2358-utah-finds-success-attracting-recreation-businesses
As you know there was a recent ruling from the Supreme Court on public prayer. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/nyregion/supreme-court-allows-prayers-at-town-meetings.html?hp&_r=1
Here are some thoughts from President Niederhauser on the Supreme Court ruling and prayer in the Senate. http://www.senatesite.com/home/prayer/#more-10697
Now that summer has arrived, expect to see more orange construction cones on the roads. There are a number of large projects planned across the state as well as many smaller projects, 175 in all. If you have travel plans you can check on possible construction slowdowns here: http://www.udot.utah.gov/projects/f?p=250:3005:0::NO:RP,3005
Also, as you are driving this summer, please remember that there are cyclists on the road. Utah law states that motorists must be at least three feet from cyclists and cannot do things like honking or yelling, that might distract the cyclists. Here is a link to RoadRespect.Utah. http://roadrespect.utah.gov/ On this site you can find more information about sharing the road between cyclists and motorists as well as information and registration instructions for the six RoadRespect tours that will be held across the state this summer.
I have already begun working on several pieces of potential legislation for the 2015 session with some constituents. If you have any issues or concerns, I would love to hear from you. I appreciate your taking time to contact me and to read this information each month. If you know others who would like to receive this information please send their contact information to *********
Also, I will be holding a constituent meeting on ********* and would love to have you and your neighbors attend.
The best way to contact me is *********or *********.
In the spirit of transparency, please remember that Utah has a very broad public records law. That means that most written communications to or from a state employee regarding state business is public and available on request to other members of the public or the media. As an elected representative, I am a state employee and working on state business, meaning that our email communication could become subject to public disclosure. If you issue is particularly sensitive, please call me at ******** and we can address your concern.
My best to you and your family,