Calm. Serene. Boring.
Pick your adjective. With half the 45-day Utah legislative session over, there have been few fireworks. And that's just fine with some legislative leaders."I don't care if people call it boring," said House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy. "I love the calm."
Monday is the session's halfway point. Traditionally, legislative leaders enter a session with high hopes of solving major policy decisions early on. And traditionally they fail.
This year, Karras wanted tax reduction questions settled in the first three weeks. He didn't get it.
Republican House and Senate caucuses still haven't decided whether Gov. Norm Bangerter's $19 million tax cut should be given, or if it is, which tax should be trimmed.
"Practically speaking, we'll have to make those decisions this week," said Karras. "In order to move ahead with the budget-setting process, we have to know if that $19 million is in (not returned to taxpayers) or out (returned to taxpayers) of the budget."
Trouble is, lawmakers won't get their updated revenue projections for 1989-90 until Feb. 14 or thereabouts. So they're going to have to proceed toward the Feb. 22 adjournment with educated guesses on tax revenues instead of hard figures.
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said one reason the session has been quiet is that Democrats have been quiet. There are only seven Democrats in the 29-member Senate, and they rarely make a lot of noise.
But there are 28 in the 75-member House. And they're more vocal. "(The Democrats) haven't found anything to fight over yet. But the session isn't over, either," smiled Christensen.
Much of the quiet is due to emotional fatigue, Karras believes.
"For two years we've caught heck - the tax increase, tax initiatives, whatever. A lot of people, both in the Legislature and out, are tired of controversy. The Democrats aren't anxious to shove us; we aren't anxious to shove them," said Karras.
"There's a feeling among the people I talk to: Let's get on with running government in a reasonable way," he added.
The $19 million tax reduction is still the major issue. GOP legislative leaders say they've come to the conclusion that $19 million is the most that could be given.
Capping the reduction at $19 million means the likely death of several proposals touted several weeks ago.
For example, there's just no way $65 million can be found to reduce sales tax by a half cent - as Rep. Frank Knowlton, R-Layton, wants - or $80 million to cut sales tax from food - as some lawmakers want.
GOP leaders also say there's little chance the sales tax on food will be reduced in phases as Sen. Francis Farley, D-Salt Lake, and Rep. Jed Wasden, R-Midvale, suggest. "Taking a little bit off at a time would be very confusing to business," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, co-chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, the GOP-dominated group that writes the final budget.
Some senators still like the idea of not returning the $19 million and reducing the state's bonded indebtedness instead. But they admit that the public may not understand that reducing the debt is a more fiscally responsible use of the money. And so reducing taxes by $19 million may be, politically, the simplest thing to do after all.