The first week of the Utah Legislature, and what do we know?
Well, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and GOP legislative leaders are promising a very good year for public education and teachers. Utah now has the "premier" economy of any of the states, Huntsman said in his State of the State address.
While even Utah's economy has cooled a bit, it is still pumping in record tax collections. And much of that extra cash will be going to schools and teachers.
Another $2,500 pay raise from lawmakers appears to be going to teachers next year. They gave a $2,500 raise to teachers this year. And some got more than that because their individual school districts pumped pay even higher.
The Utah Education Association, the main teacher union, says the average teacher pay is $39,000 a year. So with at least a $5,000 pay raise over two years, that's a 13 percent pay hike pretty darn good.
Some teachers may be asked to work a full year, instead of taking summers off. But leaders believe they will actually like that so they don't have to get a second job during the summer.
Overall, 2007 was a good year for teachers, an even better year for the UEA.
First, most teachers, the UEA and the PTA (along with many others) openly fought the private school voucher law passed by Republicans and Huntsman during the 2007 Legislature. And citizens soundly rejected the law. (All legislative Democrats voted against the bill, along with a handful of moderate Republicans.)
Then just a few weeks ago, the UEA won a major victory in federal court, having a Utah law struck down that would have stopped the union from collecting its political action committee dues out of teachers' paychecks.
While legislative Republicans deny it, the law was a clear attempt to harm public employee union PAC fundraising. And it worked, for a while. The UEA PAC's fundraising dropped off severely. And the main state government union actually shut down its PAC for a while because of a lack of funds.
But the federal court struck down the law, and public employee PACs are back getting paycheck deductions.
There certainly isn't any revenge-taking addressed to public school teachers by legislators at least not yet. And there very well may be none.
Still, it's almost a certainty that Democrats and the UEA will target some of the most vulnerable GOP lawmakers who voted for vouchers in the 2008 elections.
While tens of thousands of dollars by pro-teacher groups are routinely spent in legislative races, helping or hurting candidates as the political party and unions see fit, the reality is little changes in legislative races.
The 2001 Legislature drew House and Senate district boundaries in such a manner as to help Republicans and to help even a few Democratic lawmakers who don't give the majority party headaches.
The result was that in the 2006 elections, more than 90 percent of the 75 House members who sought re-election won.
There was more turnover in the Senate; about 80 percent of senators seeking re-election won. But that was due to some GOP senators being beaten by intraparty challengers rather than a senator being defeated by the opposing party candidate.
What does this all mean?
It looks like the 2008 Legislature will be one of the more mild sessions especially considering it is an election year.
Huntsman is also up for election this year. And he is so strong, both in the polls and in fundraising ability, that Democrats haven't even found someone to challenge him yet.
In 1996, when the then-popular GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt sought his first re-election, Democrats had to wait until the last candidate filing day to put up a sacrificial lamb candidate who went on to finish well behind Leavitt.So, look for GOP legislators to get out of the 2008 session with a tax cut for voters, nothing but praise and money for teachers and a good job performance rating for themselves.
Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]