Utah Senate to reconvene Saturday for override of workweek bill
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The state Senate is coming back to the Capitol today because they couldn't muster the votes needed to override Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of a bill to end the state's four-day workweek.
On Friday, both the House and the Senate overrode Herbert's veto of a controversial transportation funding bill that earmarks 30 percent of future additional sales-tax revenues for roads.
The GOP governor downplayed any suggestion there's a power struggle between him and the Republican-controlled Legislature despite the actions in the rare override session.
"I'm not going to psychoanalyze what the Legislature does. You know, I have a hard enough time figuring out why a lot of things happen here in the state. That's for them to answer," he said, calling the override of the transportation bill, SB229, "bad policy" that hurts Utahns.
The governor said he and lawmakers were in agreement over the intent of HB328, the bill requiring state agencies to reopen on Fridays after more than three years of extended hours Mondays through Thursdays.
"We believe there should be enhanced services," Herbert said. "We were doing by executive order what the bill was attempting to do." But he said he vetoed the bill because it did not include needed funding for the extra hours of operation.
Lawmakers were careful not to criticize the governor directly, even as they acknowledged limiting his budgeting authority and executive powers.
"What we disagree with is the policy," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo said. "He's a Republican. The majority in the House are Republicans. I think we have general support of the governor and the agenda."
Legislative leaders talked with Herbert late into the night Thursday in a failed attempt to reach a deal on SB229 to avoid the override session. Instead, House Republicans decided early Friday morning to take up the four-day workweek bill, too.
The surprise 50-18 vote on overriding HB328 came after debate over whether former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. had the authority to establish the shortened workweek, an attempt to save energy costs.
Representatives also disagreed over whether their constituents liked the longer hours state offices stay open Mondays through Thursdays, or angry that those same offices are shuttered on Fridays.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said the bill created the wrong image for taxpayers who work five days a week and expect state services to be available on Fridays. "It's the wrong projection to others out there," he said, "those who pay the taxes to support these systems."
When the bill got over to the Senate, however, the GOP majority feel short of the two-thirds majority needed to override HB328 and turned to Democrats. But despite a personal plea in the Democratic caucus from Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, the minority party declined to offer any support.
With two absent GOP senators due back Saturday — Curt Bramble of Provo and Stuart Reid of Ogden — the Senate leadership decided to postpone a vote until 7:30 p.m. Saturday. A veto override session, called by lawmakers, can last up to five days.
Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said he didn't understand the urgency to reconsider HB328, especially since the extra day of the override session carries an estimated $10,000 price tag.
"I just don't get it," Romero said. "We believe we were on the right side of the issue."
He and other Democrats expressed concern about the effect of the bill on state workers, many of whom had to make changes to their child-care arrangements and other aspects of their personal lives to work longer days.
SB229 had been the focus of the session called by legislative leaders. The bill would set aside nearly 30 percent of additional future sales-tax revenues for road construction, beginning in 2013. Herbert said the earmark could hurt other state programs, including education.
SB229's sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, has said his bill would not only ensure better funding for transportation, it would create in effect a second Rainy Day Fund that could be used to help other areas of the budget in tough times.
The bill is also seen as a way of avoiding a gas-tax increase in the 2012 Legislature, given that's an election year for the majority of lawmakers. A bill boosting the gas tax failed last session.
Lockhart urged the GOP House caucus to vote to override the bill, saying it's the Legislature that has responsibility for setting the state budget and is "not subservient" to the executive branch.
The House vote on SB229 was delayed while one member, Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, made up his mind. The former House speaker, who ended up casting the deciding vote for the bill, wanted assurances from leadership that there would be road maintenance money for southern Utah.
In the Senate, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, raised the same concern about rural roads, warning that without maintenance money, "we're going to lose them and have to reconstruct."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, joined Democrats in opposing the SB229 override, warning it was just another in a long list of budget earmarks. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, disagreed. "To me this is not binding earmarking at all," Stephenson said. "This is setting a budgeting goal."
Lawmakers took no action on the other two bills from the 2011 Legislature vetoed by the governor, SB305, which would have used a Web-based tool to align the needs of business with education, and SB294, which would have adjusted the prices and types of health care policies that could be offered in Utah.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Fruit Heights, said neither bill is expected to be raised during Saturday's override session. Jenkins said he expected the vote on the HB328 override to go smoothly, but there's always the risk it won't.
"You never know until the vote is cast," he said. "If we've done our job, the votes will be there."
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