Utah's 1989 Legislature ended its 45-day session this week in very cautious fashion, upholding its conservative image in finances and social issues and - with two important exceptions - giving Gov. Norm Bangerter what he had asked for in his budget message.
While there were the usual struggles over where and what to spend and whether to bond, the session was described by some as "smooth."This relative quiet was due to the fact that lawmakers did not raise taxes but had enough money from natural growth of the economy - about $100 million - to support vital increases in education and salaries.
Despite the lack of confrontation and high drama, the final $2.93 billion budget - only 2 percent higher than the current budget - left a lot of people unhappy.
Many agencies, particularly in social services, felt that "urgent" programs were neglected. State workers, judges, teachers, and college professors got raises, but given the lack of pay hikes in recent years, most raises were minimal at best and hardly kept pace with one year's inflation and higher insurance rates.
Yet there are taxpayers who are sure to complain since two of the governor's proposals - a $19 million tax reduction and a freeze on property taxes - failed to gain approval.
However, the $19 million earmarked in the governor's budget was not spent and simply was set aside in a rainy day fund.
Over the objections of some lawmakers, who wanted to use the unspent funds for capital projects, a $52 million bonding bill was approved to finance 19 projects.
Unresolved questions such as cutting or eliminating the sales tax on food or giving more credit on state tax forms for federal income tax paid need to be addressed in the near future. Both issues have much merit and should be pursued as rapidly as state revenues will allow.
But lawmakers did take some tax relief action. A bill expanding "circuit breaker" property tax credits for the elderly was approved. And a serious and far-reaching measure to prevent the state budget from growing faster than the rate of inflation and the state population was passed - and made retroactive to Jan. 1. As a result, the budget for fiscal 1989-90 bumped against this ceiling and had to be trimmed by $3 million.
That law linking spending and growth undoubtedly will become a significant and restrictive factor in budget deliberations in years ahead.
Despite the tight budget, the Legislature did look ahead to the future, allowing the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency to help fund lands purchases for a new arena for the Utah Jazz, and designating 1/64th of a cent in sales tax - about $4 million a year - to go into a fund to build facilities for the Winter Olympics bid for 1998.
Among the more emotional issues handled by the Legislature were decisions to prohibit surrogate parenthood contracts; to establish new child support guidelines and to outlaw smoking in schools, increase penalties for selling cigarettes to minors, and ban cigarette vending machines in places where adolescents have routine access. The challenge now is to vigorously enforce these new smoking laws to prevent youngsters from taking up the tobacco habit and endangering their health.
Among proposals that died for lack of action were bills allowing consumption of alcohol on chartered buses and limousines; designating English as an official language and closing public meetings when economic development was being discussed by officials.
As in any legislative gathering, there were things to criticize. But all in all, it was a productive session; most legislators were hard-working and effective. Utahns were generally well served by their efforts.