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Lawmakers Axe $1.5 Million For Orrin Hatch Library After Public Pile On

Brian Albers / KUER

Updated 2:20 p.m. MT 3/14/19

Utah lawmakers on Thursday quietly axed a proposed $1.5 million in funding for a center honoring retired U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch after mounting public criticism.

At the final meeting of the Executive Appropriations Committee at the Capitol, the line item for Hatch had been placed in a red parenthetical on a list of funding requests, implying the money had been removed. Sen. Jerry Stevenson, the Senate budget chief, confirmed they nixed the appropriation.

The committee later approved a finalized $19 billion budget, which will be voted on by both chambers before the Legislature adjourns at midnight.

Utah House Democrats first flagged the Hatch money, which they say was concealed in the budget under the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. The institute was to house the temporary offices of the Orrin G. Hatch library as supporters raise money for a new building.

During debate over the budget on Tuesday, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, attempted to strike the line item and reallocate the money to clean air initiatives, including a project to incentivize more teleworking jobs in rural parts of the state.

“It will get cars off of our roads in the non-attainment areas, but it will also increase jobs in rural Utah, which is a win-win for everybody,” she said. “I think this is a much better use of the funding.”

House budget chair Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, resisted the maneuver, defending Hatch as an important figure in the state and to him personally.

“I want to point out that my political career started in 1981 when I did my first internship in Orrin Hatch’s office in Washington, D.C., when Ronald Reagan was president,” said Last. “So that’s the reason I’m going to oppose that part of the motion.”

The motion to amend failed 26-46, with several defections by Republicans.

Hatch, who left office with almost $1 million in his campaign account, is worth an estimated $4.3 million, according to campaign finance watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, supporters had initially asked for $2 million to build a center commemorating Hatch’s long tenure in Congress.

Messages left for the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation were not immediately returned on Wednesday.

The earmark also drew derision from both conservatives and liberals on social media, who say the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Honestly. Who do these people represent?” tweeted Mark Pugsley about state lawmakers, who control the budget.

“It's hard to take the #utleg seriously on the need for more money in the general fund when they appropriate $500,000 to a United Nations Civil Society Conference. And $1,500,000 for the Orrin G. Hatch temple,” said Michael Jolley, a regular conservative commentator on Utah politics.

Editor's Note: KUER is receiving an appropriation of $450,000 from the state budget for a planned transmitter in Washington County.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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