SALT LAKE CITY — The 2013 Utah Legislature kicked off Monday with some harsh words for the federal government and especially Congress from House Speaker Becky Lockhart.
Lockhart, R-Provo, said the fiscal cliff deal passed by Congress on New Year's Day has cost the state revenue growth that could have been used to give Utahns a "modest" tax cut or pay for 1,600 teachers, or drug and alcohol treatment for 28,000 prisoners or services for the disabled.
"One day we're looking at promising revenue forecasts as a result of years of hard work and difficult decisions, and literally the next day, we were staring at perhaps $100 million less," the speaker told House members in her opening address to the session.
She also told the newly sworn-in members of the House that the state must resist a partnership with the federal government on providing a health insurance exchange under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
"We are being tempted to enter into a partnership with the federal government with the promise of flexibility," Lockhart said. But she said there is no negotiating with the federal government.
"There will be no such thing as a federal partnership," she said. "Anyone who believes otherwise is either in it for the money or deliberately ignoring history."
Gov. Gary Herbert is currently negotiating with the Department of Health and Human Services on adapting the state's small-business health insurance exchange, Avenue H, to comply with the new federal law.
Herbert said he expects to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the coming weeks about expanding the state's exchange to include individuals, as well as other changes.
The speaker told reporters that while she and the governor disagree on whether the state should be dealing with the federal government on the health insurance exchange, her criticisms were "generalized" rather than directed toward him.
Lockhart told House members they were not "free from sin" when it comes to spending and passing unneeded legislation, advising them to find "solutions that don't burden Utah taxpayers" and to look for ways to for the state to become less reliant on the federal government.
The speaker urged lawmakers to consider why they "find great fault with Congress while also greedily stumbling toward their siren song of cheap and easy money, a song that will lead us to a fiscal shipwreck."
Newly sworn-in Senate President Wayne Niederhauser talked about history but with a much softer tone in his opening remarks.
The Sandy Republican talked about Abraham Lincoln's spiritual side, saying that while the 16th president didn't belong to an organized religion, he believed in God, read the scriptures and prayed.
Niederhauser noted that the phrase "In God We Trust" was added to U.S. coins during the Lincoln administration.
"Often we need to reroot ourselves in principles and values that have stood the test of time," he said.
Sometimes lawmakers think they can legislate over natural law but ultimately they can't, Niederhauser said. "Eventually, natural law wins out."
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