They were talking tough. They were going to the mat, never giving in. There might not even be a bond, the House and Senate Republicans were so far apart.
My, my! What a difference three or four closed GOP caucuses can make.Thursday night the House and Senate Republicans reached a tentative com-promise on bonding. And all it took was a promise to spend $60 million - not this year, but in the 1999 Legislature.
"We've reached agreement on a $48 million bond," House Speaker Mel Brown said after coming out of the fourth closed Republican caucus in two days. Just four hours earlier, Republican leaders in the House and Senate said it looked as if a train wreck was coming. House Republicans only wanted a $46 million bond, their Senate colleagues wanted a $78 million bond. And neither side would budge.
A land swap in Cedar City came to light. And several building projects that just had to be done immediately suddenly could wait a year.
"The big item was the land for the Southern Utah University gym building," said Senate Majority Assistant Whip Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.
Instead of spending $25 million for land and construction in fiscal 1998-99, SUU officials agreed the matter should wait until a local bonding election is held to see if residents want to borrow money for an alternative site.
Postpone a couple of other items until next year and, presto, all of a sudden the Senate's $78 million bond drops considerably.
But putting off some building decisions means lawmakers start next year's session with a promise to fund $60 million worth of construction. "We could bond; we could pay cash, we could do a combination," said Rep. Gerry Adair, R-Roy, the House's capital facilities chairman.
But all was not joy when House Republicans left their last hourlong closed caucus Thursday evening.
Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, one of the leaders of the so-called "mainstream" moderate Republican House caucus, was visibly upset. Adair was seen hugging and consoling Curtis after the Republicans walked on to the House floor.
The reason was that by a slim one-vote margin, Curtis had failed to pull $5 million in cash from the overall capital facilities budget during the closed meeting. He wanted the money for class-size reduction in the seventh and eighth grades.
Gov. Mike Leavitt wanted $13.6 million for class-size reduction in middle schools, one of his top priorities in the budget now being debated. But GOP House and Senate members trimmed that amount to only $5 million, over the objections of Curtis and some other House members.
Curtis said adding another $5 million in, for a total of $10 million, would reduce middle school class sizes on average by an additional two students. "It would have been better to lose in a landslide than to lose something this important by one vote," said Curtis.
Junior high school "was a pivotal time in my life, and is a pivotal time in the lives of many 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds," Curtis said after his close defeat. "Teenagers are breaking away, if you will, from their parents in some ways. And despite the Boy Scouts, churches and other areas that strengthen kids, sometimes a strong teacher in middle school is the only adult they can look up to, get help from."
Lower class sizes may just make the difference in the personal attention kids of that age get, Curtis added.
Brown and other House GOP leaders promised Curtis they would search for $5 million somewhere in the $6.1 billion 1999 budget for additional class reduction. "Who knows, maybe they can find it," a dejected Curtis said.
Here are a few items that will absorb the $48 million bond: $3.9 million for a high- tech center at the Salt Lake Community College's Jordan center; $8.4 million to expand the Gunnison prison; $3 million to expand the Sevier Valley ATC shop; $1 million to build new restrooms in state parks; $2.3 million for the Murray Highway Patrol office; $2.8 million for the Davis workforce services employment center; $1.3 million to buy land for a 4th District court building; $1 million to buy land for Dixie College; and $15.6 million to buy a new, massive computer system for the state Tax Commission.