Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Legislative session is a boiling cauldron of conjecture

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Water Issues. Utah is famous for controversial liquor laws, but nothing creates political maelstroms like fights over water rights. Utah homeowners, businesses and agricultural interests receive water allocations through myriad companies, districts and other obscure entities. Thus only a few individuals (referred to as "water buffalos") truly understand the nuances. Massive legislation (that your columnists cannot comprehend) is being debated with ferocity. The outcome will impact all Utahns.

Sequestration. As lawmakers piece together the state budget, they are edgy because of the real possibility that federal funds may dwindle after the session concludes. The state is depending on $500 million that could be at risk in current federal budget negotiations. Without the federal money, Utah's budget surplus quickly becomes a budget deficit.

The problem is short-term and long-term. Utah lawmakers are wise to plan for the day when federal leaders finally get realistic about out-of-control debt and the federal money spigot dries to a trickle. A package of bills will be debated to prepare the state. It's likely that Utah's action will draw national attention and will be replicated in other states.

Fuel Tax. The possibility of a local-option fuel tax is getting some buzz at the Capitol. Lawmakers aren't inclined to raise taxes, but they recognize that the state fuel tax has lost a great deal of purchasing power. Utah's roads and highways are deteriorating, and giving local governments a way to raise highway user fees could be part of the solution.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant, lobbyist and part of the Utah Mobility Coalition. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. 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: frankp@xmission.com.

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