View From the Gallery - Week 4
Believe it or not, but we’ve made it past the half way mark of the 2015 legislative session. That means the real work can finally begin.
And the crux of that work, is setting the budget, and this year, the state of Utah is flush with money. The latest revenue projections are $100 million higher than December’s projections. What does that mean? Well, legislators now have more than $700 million of new money to spend.
Property Tax Equalization
But even with the higher than normal revenue projections, the Senate still passed a bill that would increase state property taxes. It’s an effort to help equalize funding between rich and poor school districts. But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Aaron Osmond, says this isn’t the traditional Robin Hood approach and wouldn’t take away any existing money from school districts, just some of the new money generated by the tax hike.
Partisan School Board Elections
Speaking of Utah’s education system, the Senate also passed a bill that would make State School Board elections partisan. And since that wasn’t going far enough, the bill also would make the four largest school districts in the state hold partisan elections too. Many Republican lawmakers argue that it would make the races more visible, while Democratic legislators worry about injecting party politics into education.
Criminal Justice Reform
In non-education related news, Republican Rep. Eric Hutchings introduced legislation that would completely overhaul Utah’s criminal justice system. One of the biggest changes the bill would make is lowering drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. It also would increase funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.
In the broken record department, legislators continue to discuss possible Medicaid expansion alternatives. In the Senate, both Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan and Sen. Christensen’s “Frail Utah” plan await debate on the floor. Meanwhile in the House, Republicans can’t seem to come to a consensus on what they should do. And while they had been talking about forming their own plan. Majority leader Jim Dunnigan says they’ve really only discussed the two Senate plans, and the ever popular third option of doing nothing.
And finally, several members of Utah’s congressional delegation addressed the legislature this week. Ironically, they mostly just talked about how dysfunctional congress is back in Washington.
And that’s this week’s “View From the Gallery.” Check back next week where, you never know, they might actually have done something about Medicaid expansion.