Utah legislators will get a chance over the next 10 days to open their personal finances to the public. If they don't take it, tax limitation leaders may let the public do it for them.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, believes the 104 lawmakers and other state elected officials, like the governor and attorney general, should file detailed financial disclosure statements each year. Candidates for those offices should file such statements also during election years."I don't know if my bill will even get out of Rules (Committee)," said Hillyard. "I don't think it will pass (into law) if it is debated. But we have to think and start talking about these things."
Indeed they do, says former House member Lloyd Selleneit, a leader in the tax limitation movement.
Selleneit says he's drafted an initiative petition - he calls it the Campaign Reform Act - that his tax protest colleagues may well decide to circulate this coming year. Part of that petition is the financial disclosure Hillyard - not a tax protester himself - wants.
Selleneit said that after the session ends, his group will decide what petitions they'll run this coming year. His Utah Tax Limitation Coalition also wants the sales tax removed from food, although that probably won't happen because senators killed a bill on Monday that would do that (see Legislature in Action, page A2).
Hillyard, a respected Republican attorney in the Senate, said that if lawmakers don't act and the tax protesters get their peti tion on the 1990 ballot, "I think I know what will happen - it will pass."
The Arkansas state House passed a lawmaker-disclosure bill several years ago, but the state Senate killed it. An initiative drive put the measure before the voters. "It was approved by 87 percent of the voters. Who could oppose it?" said Hillyard.
Wait and see who in the Utah Senate and House will oppose full disclosure. Some lawmakers are millionaires with large real estate holdings. Hillyard's bill is extensive in its requirements and many legislators may not want their political opponents or neighbors knowing how they make a living or what they own.
First of all, Hillyard's bill would require that lobbyists file a report detailing when they spend more than $50 on a lawmaker or a member of his immediate family. Utah lawmakers' recent free weekend at Park City ski resorts would certainly be detailed in such a report.
The bill goes on to require that elected state officials, including the governor and legislators, file a yearly statement the end of January (during the general legislative session) that would list any property worth more than $5,000 (not including a primary residence); any securities or stocks worth more than $1,000; any debt of more than $10,000 (excluding a home mortgage, bank card or installment loan, like a car); any debt of $10,000 or more paid off during the previous year (so a lawmaker couldn't borrow and pay off such a loan and not report it); ownership in any business worth more than 10 percent of that business; any client of the lawmaker who paid his firm more than $25,000 in a year (this would make lawmaker-attorneys divulge their big clients); and any honorariums (speeches and the like) of more than $100 that are directly tied to their public position.
Failure of the public official to report his finances accurately could result in a $25,000 fine and removal from office - pretty stiff penalties.
Hillyard said he expects his bill will be defeated and then studied for a year. "We bring it back next year and make them (lawmakers) vote on it in an election year. Maybe that will work."
Said Selleneit: "I hope they (lawmakers) act themselves. Maybe our petition will move them to act. We had a petition that would make Political Action Committees file financial reports, and the Legislature passed such a law before we handed in our petitions. We didn't need to go to the people on that one. I hope we don't need to on this one as well."