Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Special Session July 2011: Booze, Budgets, and Ballets

Interim session was held today and we discussed several issues:

Utah's Looming $5 Billion Hole - During Conservative Caucus meeting this morning Rep. Ken Ivory gave us an overview of the looming budget problems that will coming down the road.  Of Utah's $12 Billion budget, $5 Billion are funds received from the Federal Government in the form of block grants and other types of payments.  With the Federal Government soon to be forced into austerity measures, state and municipal governments will be the first to feel the reduction in money flows.  Interestingly, the ratings agencies on Wall Street recently warned the state of Utah that it will need to prepare for this scenario.  The agencies were shocked to learn that we had already passed HB 138 during the 2011 general session which creates a plan for our state government to operate in the event that Federal money becomes unavailable.  The passage of this bill has helped Utah maintain is 'AAA' bond rating.  Regardless, it was felt among the body that our Federal deficit and debt problems will be affecting Utah and the States in the very near future. 

"Preferential Balloting" - In committee meeting this morning we discussed the possibility of using a rare form of "preferential ballot"  It's main purpose would be to be used when more than two candidates appeared on a ballot.  It would allow voters to rank their preferences and allow for quick elimination of inferior candidates and to give a clear majority victory to one candidate.  One of the reasons to use such a system would be to reduce "spoiler" candidates (i.e. Green Party, Constitution Party, Ross Perot) from causing victories to be established by plurality rather than a majority.  Unfortunately, our current voting system does not provide for voting in this manner and the cost to purchase a new voting system would be at least $26 Million.

Board and Commission Review - Our committee also agreed to submit a survey to all boards and commissions established by state government to identify efficiency and effectiveness so we can identify any consolidation and cuts that can occur.  Surveys will be mailed to 252 committees and boards that taxpayers are funding.

Government Optimization - Efforts are constantly being made to improve state government.  We learned today that state employees are paid 17% less than the private sector while receiving benefits that are 20% superior to the private sector.  Adjustments to state employees compensation were suggested.    It was also proposed that the number of cabinet level agencies be reduced from 21 to just 7.

FLUB OF THE DAY - Mike Mowers : "The governor wants every state employee focused on growing government."

Interesting Special Session Bills:

HB 2002 - Prison Relocation and Development Authority Act Amendments -  This bill deals with how the state will sell its 800 acre prison facility located in Draper, Utah. Due to the unique situation and the political sensitivity of such a transaction, this bill provides that the Legislature (and thus vicariously the people of the state) approve the sale of the property to any developer that submits a satisfactory proposal.

HB 2003 - Insurance Amendments - This bill provided some technical changes and gives insurers in the state some flexibility in how they craft policies to meet the needs of their customers.  There was a debate on the floor about the context of the bill.  It appears that the insurance industry has become so mired in regulation that changes in the law have ripple affects across the entire industry and interfere with other regulations.  The questions on this bill were regarding whether it would create insurance products that are "in" the state exchange system and also "out" of the system simultaneously.  The bill passed both the Hosue and Senate today.

SCR 201 - Resolution Supporting the United States Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment - The title is self explanatory.  We passed this resolution to send a message to Washington D.C. that we expect our nation to keep it's fiscal house in order like Utah does each year.  This bill passed today.  

SB 2002 -  Alcoholic Beverage Control Act Amendments - This bill fixed some of the unintended consequences that occurred when we passed legislation earlier this year.  The bill corrects some conflict of interest problems, religious permit usage, and licensing details.  The bill passed 60-0.

Ogden School District - Finally, in Majority Caucus meeting today, Ogden School District was mentioned and received applause from much of the room for its initiative to work toward performance pay.

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