The new year has started out cold, murky and depressing. And that's just on the political front. As political forecasters, we predict the haze isn't going away any time soon. Our prognostications aren't any more accurate than the typical TV weatherman, but here are a few things we think will happen in the year 2013.
Former state Rep. John Dougall, now state auditor, will keep the state political atmosphere stirred up. By pledging to conduct "performance audits," not just traditional financial audits, he is already striking fear in state managers and employees, especially with his unorthodox and confrontational style. It will be fun to watch, especially as Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders are encouraged to rein him in. We predict that no one can alter Dougall's trajectory — whatever it is.
Governor's office. State senators. State representatives. Local elected officials. These leaders at various levels of government secretly believe they are smarter than all the others. We may find out when a team representing each compete in a "Jeopardy!"-like game, hosted by the Utah League of Cities & Towns on Jan. 30. (Famous "Jeopardy!" contestant Ken Jennings will emcee the live contest). Who will be the victor? We predict all citizens will win — they will discover that one does not have to be a genius to get elected.
Outgoing Senate Pres. Michael Waddoups struck a hard line against liberalizing Utah's liquor laws. With his departure, how long will it take restaurateurs and other hospitality entrepreneurs to pour into the Capitol to loosen liquor laws and bring down the "Zion curtain"? We predict that not since the repeal of Prohibition will so many lobbyists be interested in booze. Plus, Rep. Jim Bird is proposing that 10 percent of liquor revenues go to public education. Support your local elementary school. Have a drink.
The Salt Lake Chamber's Prosperity 2020 coalition is comprised of some of Utah's top business leaders. They are requesting an additional $70 million in public education to maintain a strong workforce and a robust economy. How long will it take for these business icons to become appalled at the legislative process? Since sausage-making is tough to watch, we predict they will get queasy within 48 hours of the banging of the gavel.
Sen. Orrin Hatch veered to the right to capture the GOP nomination in 2012. But last week, he warned against the takeover of the Republican Party by right-wing radicals and endured attacks for supporting the "fiscal cliff" legislation. So is Hatch rudderless, or just a shrewd operator? Hatch is, and always was, a strong conservative. But we predict he has abandoned the extreme fringe (they weren't much fun to hang out with anyway) to re-establish his dealmaker role on important national matters. Good for him. The Governor's Office has engaged in high-stakes poker with federal officials over the state's health insurance exchange. But the Legislature still has to weigh in. We predict that lawmakers will embrace an Obamacare-compliant state exchange — and announce the decision by releasing flying pigs at the press conference.
Another big health care issue is Medicaid expansion. The feds bribe states to dramatically expand Medicaid by paying all the extra cost for a few years, and later 90 percent of the cost. Legislators aren't likely to go for the easy money.
Assault rifles, ammo and banana clips (sounds like one of LaVarr's deer hunting expeditions) will dominate Washington discussions over the next several months. But with a few hundred million guns already in American homes, and people lining up to purchase more as fast as Browning, Colt, Remington, and Smith & Wesson can make them, we predict little of substance will come of all the lofty oratory. Much of America subscribes to this simple philosophy: "They'll have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers."
Some Utahns are calling for reforms to the caucus/convention candidate nomination system to engage more citizens in the process. Will state legislators tackle that issue in 2013? Probably not, because they must face delegates in caucuses and conventions in 2014. But it's surprising how much support is building for reform in every sector of Utah society, including among many legislators. They just don't want to be in front of it.
The transportation and business lobby wants lawmakers to increase the motor fuel tax this year because the tax has lost 40 percent of its purchasing power since it was last raised. The tax pays mostly for highway and road maintenance, and reduced purchasing power results in deteriorating roads. Is this the year for a gas tax increase? We predict it will be a tough proposal to sell. Legislators just don't like raising taxes. But perhaps a compromise is possible, such as allowing a local-option gas tax, or indexing the tax so it at least keeps up with inflation.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.