Gov. Herbert threatens veto of House speaker's education initiative if price tag not slashed

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 5:00 p.m. MST

Gov. Gary Herbert during a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News Archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert threatened Thursday to veto a controversial education technology initiative from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, unless the price tag is cut from $200 million to no more than $30 million.

"The governor would emphasize Utah is not Washington, D.C.," said Marty Carpenter, the governor's spokesman. "D.C.-style politics leads to D.C.-style outcomes, and this is not the Utah way."

Herbert believes the state "should not throw hundreds of millions of dollars at an initiative only to discover the lessons learned after the fact," Carpenter said.

The most that should be spent, he said, is $20 million to $30 million.

"The governor is prepared to veto anything that comes in above that amount," Carpenter said.

The price tag for the speaker's plan to replace textbooks with tablet computers in Utah schools has also sparked a stalemate over the state's spending plan between the Republican majority in the House and Senate.

Lockhart downplayed the obvious tension between her and the governor. She is seen as a possible challenger to Herbert in the 2016 gubernatorial election and kicked off the session by calling him an "inaction figure" in her opening speech.

"I'm not going to say it's a threat. I think that's harsh," the speaker said of a veto. "The governor has every right to say what he wants to say. And we have every right to legislate the way we're going to legislate. We'll work it out."

Lockhart said her vision for HB131, sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, is to bring Utah schools "out of the 19th century" to better prepare students.

"I hope (the governor) will catch that vision and be a part of it," she said.

Before Herbert issued his ultimatum, the speaker and other House leaders skipped their weekly meeting with their Senate counterparts and the governor. Lockhart said it was because they weren't ready to talk about the budget.

Senate GOP leaders said there's not enough money available to cover the cost of the initiative and want to spend no more than $26 million. House Republicans responded by closing their caucus to talk about increasing the gas tax to bring in more cash.

Lockhart said no position was taken on the gas tax and called the presentation merely "informational." She said House Republicans reject the notion that taxes must be raised to pay for her education initiative.

The speaker did not rule out that there may end up being less money available for program.

"We can do a lot with more than $30 million," she said. "I know whatever goes into this initiative will be valuable and will help prepare our children. We owe them nothing less."

Senate leaders said the session may end without a budget.

"We’ve set forth our proposal and they theirs, and we’re quite a ways from agreement," said Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. "If we don't come together, the governor will have to call us back into special session."

Lawmakers have already approved base budgets but have yet to divvy up nearly $400 million in surplus funds from the current budget year that ends June 30 or the additional revenue expected in the next budget year.

There's already a long list of programs vying for that money, including a $61 million increase in the funding mechanism for public schools used to boost teacher compensation sought by the governor.

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