With less than two weeks to go in the legislative session, lawmakers are bearing down on tax reform while finishing up other priorities. We examine session issues, leadership and trends.
In every legislative session, a tug-of-war breaks out between state lawmakers and local governments. In this session, legislation considered would limit local government regulation of plastic bags and gravel pits and restrict county choice on forms of county government, among other things. Is the Legislature picking on local government too much?
Pignanelli: "If you can't legislate, you can't deal with problems.” — Lloyd Blankfein
When describing actions of lawmakers, for ease, commentators refer to "The Legislature,” incorrectly implying this group is a collective hive that moves and reacts as a single unit. Actually, individual legislators serve in multiple roles — at the same time — of mediator, referee, combatant and counselor. They partner with external organizations and form temporary alliances with colleagues in pushing or thwarting issues. The process is a multidimensional reality show with infinite plot twists.
“The Legislature” does not target anyone — including local government. In response to concerns of their communities or neighbors, legislators and citizens on either side of these issues appeal to a broader spectrum of lawmakers who make the ultimate decision acting as mediators or umpires. Cities impact the daily lives of Utahns, which compels lawmakers to arbitrate multiple municipal and county matters.
The only activities "The Legislature" performs in unison is eating, attending boring meetings and grumbling about lobbyists — along with everyone else in the state.
Webb: It is common for more powerful levels of government to assert their will on lower levels. Some legislators point out that local governments are creations of the state, so they can impose whatever they wish on local governments.
That is true, but state leaders are also fond of saying government closest to home is the best government, and that government ought to be decentralized, enabling local autonomy to the extent that is practical.
Just because state legislators can lord it over local governments doesn’t mean they should. Those of us who greatly resent centralization at the federal level ought also to be leery of centralization at the state level. We ought to be consistent.
We also should accept the fact that a handful of Utah cities are much more liberal than the rest of the state. I know this for a fact because I’m a mainstream conservative but also a “downtown riser” who lives in the heart of Salt Lake City. If cities want to impose goofy liberal policies, conservative legislators, for the most part, ought not get in their way. We can vote with our feet, if we wish.
In their rookie session, new Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson are confronting difficult issues like tax reform, Medicaid expansion, air quality and rapid growth. Are they too ambitious as new leaders in their first session?
Pignanelli: These sons of northern Utah are well-known for their deliberative balanced approach. Wilson raised eyebrows when he chose Magna Democrat Sue Duckworth to serve as a vice-chairwoman of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee. This is a wonderful bipartisan measure that allows Duckworth’s blue-collar sensibilities to scrutinize those highfalutin academics. Utah's efficient and technologically advanced transportation system is a direct result of Adams’ vision and influence. Further, his promotion of strong management principles is paying dividends to taxpayers.
The Medicaid expansion issue illuminates their styles. Caucus members are complimentary of strong leadership by both, but without bullying. There was sensitivity to Democrats and Republicans with different opinions. Despite the fierce media bombardment, Adams and Wilson exuded dignity and never wavered from the ultimate goal. These strengths demonstrates they are willing and competent to consume tough issues.
Webb: I like leaders who think big and grapple with hard issues. Meaningful tax reform is about as tough as it gets. Leaders have talked for many years about the need to broaden the sales tax base. These guys, along with Gov. Gary Herbert, are actually fighting the good fight.4 comments on this story
If there was a flaw in the tax reform battle, it was not starting early enough. With so many stakeholders fighting on behalf of their industries, this is a monumental task and it requires a great deal of time to work through all the concerns and reach compromises. But even if they don’t achieve consensus on all the details, if they can approve principles and parameters of tax reform, and set a timeline, that will be good progress.
Are there any new trends or unexpected developments occurring in this session?
Pignanelli: There have been fewer rallies and public demonstrations. I suggest Utahns still care about issues but are using social media to express their opinions. The one constant is lousy parking, and I am exceeding 10,000 steps most days.
Webb: For the most part, lawmakers have avoided huge partisan battles and message bills. Air quality legislation could become a significant achievement in this session.