It's now or never for a bill that raises Utahns' phone rates so that US WEST can pocket Yellow Pages revenue.
Rep. Brent Haymond, R-Springville and sponsor of HB263, acknowledged early Tuesday that the "jump point" for the bill was noon.US WEST proponents may die trying to ramrod the bill through the Legislature, and a frenzy of last-minute lobbying from all sides dominated hallway discussion of the bill.
But Tuesday morning the bill remained in the House Rules Committee. Rep. Bill Hickman, R-St. George and committee chairman, said only a few bills would be released to the full House for debate - and he wasn't sure HB263 would be one of them.
The bill lets US West keep $30 million a year in Yellow Pages revenue, while raising the per line phone rate $2.25 over the next five years.
US WEST would get to keep half the money raised by the increased rates, while the other half - $45 million - would be placed in a legacy fund that the company could use to bolster services.
Bottom line: Consumers pay more while US WEST apparently stands to gain $30 million a year - and growing - in Yellow Pages revenue, access to a $45 million fund to build infrastructure and, after five years, $30 million generated by higher per-line rates.
Even if the contentious bill makes it through the House, Utah Senate leaders appeared unwilling to give it fast-track passage in the waning hours of lawmaking.
"I will be very surprised to see if it passes the House," said Senate Majority Leader Craig Peterson, R-Orem. "There will probably not be a bill this year because there is just too much misconception about the process of deregulation."
That may be just as well given the level of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the bill.
The Utah League of Cities and Towns emerged as a surprise and controversial player in discussion about HB263 late in the game, with only a few days remaining in the legislative session.
The group became involved with an announcement in late February that all member mayors supported the bill. The league reaffirmed its support for the bill Monday afternoon after hearing from opponents of the bill.
But the meeting also confirmed the confusion and divisiveness among community leaders statewide.
"I think the sides of this issue are so far apart that we need time to study it," said Dave Millheim, city administrator in South Jordan.
And the details are difficult to pin down.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, chairman of the league and a proponent of the bill, called the bill a "win/win" for all parties. It will "cost consumers $15 million less, over five years, than the original measure, will create a $45 million development fund, and will save consumers $60 million in rates."
Translation of this obfuscation: Dolan means consumers will save money by spreading the rate increase over five years.
But several of 60 city officials who attended a Utah League of Cities and Towns meeting in the Capitol Monday said they don't know how much US WEST might invest in their areas.
Some said privately they felt "hoodwinked" by the fast flow of numbers and statistics. One official from Rockville said he knows no money will come to his area for improvement but that the $2.25 hit to residents' phone bills will have an impact.
Another mayor told the Deseret News the bill formalizes a Public Service Commission ruling that Yellow Pages revenue shouldn't subsidize local phone rates.
In fact, the opposite is true. The commission ruled in favor of consumers on the issue. Ironically, Commission Chairman Steve Mecham has been approached by only one lawmaker - Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert - about the ramifications of the bill.
Mecham believes the bill overlooks a critical issue: the constitutionality of removing the Yellow Pages revenue without compensating ratepayers for a vested interest in the revenue.
"You have to address this interest," he said.
Hot and heavy lobbying also has made its way to Gov. Mike Leavitt's office. One group met with him Monday, asking him to veto the bill if it passes. He's heard from regulators, industry groups, consumer advocates and a steady stream of lobbyists and lawyers.
"Everyone's been anxious to give me his point of view," said Leavitt, who emphasized he is not out "pressing for the bill."
"I'm just trying to make sure I understand the dynamics if it comes to me."