Lawmakers meeting in special session Wednesday will have few options when it comes to voting on Gov. Norm Bangerter's controversial settlement of Utah's thrift crisis.
It's either accept the settlement as is or take your chances in court fighting depositors' claims of negligence and fraud in the collapse of Utah's thrift industry, parties in the settlement say.And, while lawmakers may respect the demands of Bangerter and depositors' attorneys not to tinker with the delicate agreement, they will make it a long day voicing opinions for and against resolving the multimillion-dollar thrift depositor lawsuit and several other items on the agenda.
"There's a lot of discussion going on in the background, and legislators will have to talk about it (the thrift settlement) quite a bit before making a decision," said House Majority Leader Nolan Karras, R-Roy. "It's a very emotional issue and as a result it won't be an easy one to take care of."
Other matters lawmakers will consider are:
- Imposing a moratorium on permits for hazardous waste facilities until state siting criteria are established and clarifying the statute to assure siting criteria apply to permit applications being processed and those received in the future.
- Amending the Municipal Improvement District Act to authorize revenues to pay off special improvement bonds.
Items not yet on the call but which Ban-gerter may add if there is enough agreement:
- Amending the child support schedule as a guideline for the courts.
- Appropriating $49,000 toward purchasing a beach cleaner for the south shore of the Great Salt Lake.
The Senate will also consider a number of executive and judicial appointments, including the reappointment of Roger Tew as a state tax commissioner.
After months of negotiating with attorneys for thrift depositors, Bangerter reached a settlement last month that would return $100 million of the $106 million depositors had in five privately insured thrift and loans before the state shut the institutions down in July 1986 and later placed them under court-ordered liquidation. Depositors have already received about $40
illion from the liquidation.
To finance the remaining $60 million reimbursement, lawmakers will be asked to approve a $32 million bond issue and a $9 million payment from the state's Risk Management Fund. A former state insurance carrier, California Union Insurance Co. (Cal Union), has agreed to contribute the remaining $19 million of the settlement.
The bond would be retired by proceeds from the ongoing asset liquidation of the thrifts and the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. - a private, non-profit deposit insurance fund established by the state to guaranty thrift accounts up to $15,000.
No organized opposition to the settlement has surfaced, and no recent public opinion polls have been taken. But a majority of respondents to past polls oppose using state tax money to reimburse depositors.
Other issues that could stall passage of the settlement include: Whether the settlement actually protects the state from further litigation regarding the thrifts; using tax money to pay depositors' legal costs; and whether depositors should be held to the $15,000 limit guaranteed by the ILGC.
Hoping to answer those questions and win supporters, depositors' attorneys have met with some lawmakers personally and last week mailed packets of information to the entire Legislature.
The packets contain memos and meeting minutes when state officials said the state would be liable and accused of fraud if losses were suffered in the thrifts. The information also emphasizes that the $19 million contribution from Cal Union gives some indication of the state's exposure in the thrift debacle.
"The information presents a convincing case for the depositors, but I want to hear the other side," said Rep. LaMont Richards, R-Salt Lake. "Right now, I won't support the settlement."
As for Karras, he said the merits of the lawsuit can't be debated because there are too many possible answers to the questions of why the thrifts failed, who is responsible and whether depositors deserve state assistance. Instead, lawmakers should consider the risks and costs of fighting depositors in court vs. resolving claims against the state now, he said.
"We can't have 104 legislators negotiating this thing. The governor has come up with a settlement and we should put this thing behind us rather than risk the hazards of the court system."
For legislators who don't want to decide, they can nix the settlement by not giving two-thirds majority support to a legal technicality that must be amended to expedite the settlement. State law provides a 60-day notice to lawmakers before taking up recommendations by the state's Board of Examiners. The board approved the settlement Aug. 30 and Bangerter will ask lawmakers to waive the 60-day waiting period to avoid delaying the issue until late October or possibly the regular session in January.
"The governor wants it done and doesn't want to wait," Karras said. "But if it (the waiver) doesn't pass by two-thirds then nobody will want to deal with it until the regular session."
Asked if the issue of waiving the 60-day requirement will be used to kill the settlement, Karras said he couldn't tell.