A fourth of the Utah Legislature will travel to Cedar City Thursday and Friday to attend meetings with the State Board of Education and Board of Regents.
Along with all the talk comes free meals and free tickets to the Utah Shakespearean Festival - all courtesy of Southern Utah University.The two-day affair for the 20-member Education Interim Study Committee - the largest in the Legislature - is a yearly tradition. Legislative leaders like to say it takes the place of the committee's regular monthly meeting, and thus doesn't cost the state much more money.
But legislators sit on two interim study committees, so education committee members will be on Capitol Hill next Wednesday - the regular interim day - to attend their other meeting and so will be paid their regular $100-a-day salary, per diem and hotel room rates in addition to two days' pay, per diem and hotel for this week's Cedar City trip.
There's a history to the Education Committee's "Shakespearean Trip," as some in the Legislature have called it in the past.
Before the Legislature as a whole started making yearly visits to various parts of the state, the Education Committee's Cedar City trip grated on some lawmakers who didn't get such a perk.
In fact, one year the Legislative Management Committee - the com-mit-tee of GOP and Democratic leaders that oversees legislative operations - banned all such trips. Then they allowed the Education Committee to go to Cedar City, but only paid for one day of the two-day meetings. In recent years, committee members have been paid for the multi-day meetings.
In 1993 the Education, Transportation and Natural Resource committees all asked to go to Cedar City to attend various meetings. And legislative leaders decided enough was enough.
Instead, leaders decided that all lawmakers would go to St. George and Cedar City for two days of town meetings and tours. The event was a hit and each summer since the Legislature has traveled in mass to a different area of the state. This September lawmakers and selected staff members visit Kane and Garfield counties on a three-day trip.
Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, is the House chair of the Education Committee. He says the Cedar City trips are well worth the cost.
"The Board of Regents (who over-see the state's public colleges and universities) and the State Board of Education are going anyway. It makes sense for us (in the Legislature) to piggyback on those meetings. The meetings are very well planned and very useful," says Frandsen.
Frandsen is an administrator and teacher at the Salt Lake Community College, where he teaches a class on informal policymaking.
"One thing that is critical is not just allocating money (in paying for lawmakers to attend various meetings), but also time. Time spent can translate into meaningful policy. In my class I focus on informal processes. Eating lunch or going to an activity, we're still talking about business. Forced interaction of people makes a huge dif-fer-ence. In our opportunity in Cedar, yes, we go to a play or dinner, but we always talk business. It winds up being a very productive time.
"It's a question of balance, how far do you go before taxpayers lose, how far do you go for them to win? It's not black and white. We try to be sensitive to that and clearly (the Cedar trip) is a win" for taxpayers, Frandsen said.
SUU president Steven Bennion is glad lawmakers, regents and state board members are coming. Bennion says the school has a policy of giving two free tickets to "policymakers who have an impact" on higher education.
The Legislature and Board of Regents certainly qualify there. The 1996 Legislature gave SUU $1.1 million to buy land for the Shakespearean Festival's expansion; regents oversee the whole university system. The connection of the Board of Education, which oversees grade schools, is less clear.
In any case, the visit does have an impact. In total, about 135 tickets will be made available to the lawmakers, regents, board of education members and the staffs to the three bodies. Everyone going gets two tickets.
Sixteen lawmakers are going (four committee members have said they can't make it) with three legislative staff members. All 15 regents are going with 10 staff members. Fifteen state Board of Education members are going along with eight staff, officials of the three groups said.
If all invited attend, take two tickets and went to the "Taming of the Shrew" in the Adams outdoor theater Thursday night, nearly a fifth of the 777 seats would be filled with visiting education officials and guests.
"We make sure we're in the black (economically) in our policy" of giving out the free tickets, said Bennion.
"Actually, I suggested to President Bennion, in early planning for this trip, that all legislators pay for their own tickets," said Frandsen. "But he felt strongly that they should be provided (for free)," Frandsen said.
Bennion said SUU is glad, privileged, to host the group. It's a great opportunity to show off what the university is doing, he added. And a good time to rub shoulders with the people making all kinds of money decisions.
In addition to the free tickets, SUU provides continental breakfasts, lunches and a barbecue dinner Thursday night before the evening's plays.