Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Resolution Convolution: The $101 Million Drama

Today the Utah Legislature was called into special session by Governor Herbert.  As a representative-elect, I was invited to attend and watch the Legislature address the issue dealing with $101 million dollars that are coming to Utah as part of the Federal Government's education jobs bailout which passed earlier this year.

As you can probably guess, it was a contentious issue and stirred some heated debate.

The resolution as it was proposed stated that Utah was accepting the funds but doing so holding its nose due to the perceived usurpation of State's rights and encroachment of Federal power on State prerogative.

Here are some important facts related to the funds and the resolution:

1.  The funds were officially requested by the Governors office and would be received by the State whether or not the Legislature approved the resolution.
2.  The Legislature has sole authority over appropriating State funds for use, including education funds, and not passing this resolution would allow the Federal government to bypass the Legislature by issuing funds to school districts directly.
3.  The resolution with its strong language of dissatisfaction added was seen as a compromise on the issue.
4.  The funds are desperately needed to plug a $50 million shortfall in our education budget.

So, the debate that ensued on the House Floor was quite intriguing.  On one side, you had a Republican  faction of representatives who absolutely opposed receiving the funds on grounds that it was fiscally irresponsible on a national level and just another example of government over spending.  On another side, you had Republican representatives that supported the strong language and yet wanted to approve the bill based on the States budget gap.  Finally, on a third side, the Democratic representatives tried to substitute a bill with friendlier wording than the one proposed on the basis that provoking the Federal Government with a verbal rebuke would hurt other sources of Federal funding that we are dependent on.

In the end, the original resolution was passes with just 14 Republican representatives voting "No" on the measure.

The Legislature today was put in a Catch-22 situation.  To have voted the resolution down on grounds of supporting State's Rights would have had the opposite desired effect as the Federal government circumvented the State's authority to distribute funds and encroached further into State business.  However, today's vote of approval may likely put some of the State's sovereignty at risk in the future as the Federal Government uses the acceptance of funds as a reason to mandate compliance to more Federal rules.  It has done just that with Medicaid funds the State received several years ago.

It seems that the Federal Government is becoming a master of making offers that States cannot refuse.   

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