— We have just finished up our appropriation meetings and those priorities and recommendations have been forwarded to the Executive Appropriation Committee,which is comprised of all leadership, including minority and majority leaders. They will now do the balancing act of trying to determine what to fund and what not to fund. We haven't yet received our latest financial report concerning the last quarter income report, but early indications show that general fund revenue projections are not as good as once thought. The general fund revenue source is primarily sales tax, and our sales tax revenues have been down statewide, even though local sales tax revenues have been up. Another contributing factor to the general fund decrease is the loss of revenue from mining of minerals, and oil and natural gas drilling. But there is good news in that income tax revenue, which goes completely to fund public and higher education, continues to be strong.
We are nearing the halfway point of this legislative session. so the action will heat up, and both the House and Senate will spend almost all of our time in committees considering legislation, and then on the floor to consider final passage or defeat of all this legislation. When all is said and done, between four to five hundred pieces of legislation will be approved by the Utah Legislature this year.
By state law we are to balance the budget every year, and one element of the legislative session that helps with that are appropriation committees. These committees vet all requests, and help determine cost and priority. I am continuing to work with my southern Utah colleagues on funding requests important to our area. They include $50,000 for the Utah Summer Games, $150,000 for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, $350,000 for the Prairie Dog Management Plan (last year's $400,000 appropriation for this was a huge success for our area), $400,000 for the expansion at the Tuacahn amphitheatre, $1.5 million to support development of a partnership physician assistant program with the University of Utah and Dixie State University, and $8 million to construct the new business building on the campus of Southern Utah University (with an additional $9 million dollars in private donations for the building). These are important issues for southern Utah and not only help our citizens but provide additional return on investment to the state.
Two important legislative audits were released this week. I encourage you to review the findings and news coverage surrounding both of them. They are great examples of how the Utah Legislature is not only finding waste and bad governance within government bureaucracy, but taking action to remedy it. For example, an audit of the Board of Pardons and Parole released this week found a lack of information, coordination, and modern electronic tools may have contributed to the their decision to release the inmate who later gunned down Officer Doug Barney. The audit also showed a lack of consistency in decisions based on similar crimes.
We can expect to see many water bills this session. One bill coming out of the Senate -SB80, Infrastructure Funding Amendments, has been met with some public push back. This issue was available for public comment in the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee. The bill is intended to create a water infrastructure fund, and would take this money from certain sales and tax revenue that was originally deposited into the Transportation Fund. Many citizens who spoke to the bill during the public comment period expressed concern that this money would be used on projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. The bill's sponsor, Senator Stuart Adams, said the fund at least initially would be a revolving fund intended to help local water authorities improve their outdated infrastructure. The bill passed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation and will soon be debated on the Senate floor.
SB 23, Water Law-Protected Purchaser Amendments, by Senator Dayton, protects water rights owners who have paid their assessments, but cannot produce the original documentation. It also protects existing water rights owners from people finding documentation of water rights and claiming ownership when no assessments have been paid. If assessments have been paid for at least 4 of the last 7 years, those rights are protected. In essence, this ensures that paper water rights do not exceed actual water rights that are being currently paid for and managed correctly. This bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 29-0.
SB 28, Water System Conservation Pricing, By Senator Jenkins, has already passed in the Senate and has been given to the House for consideration. This bill will lower water usage through conservation pricing. Rates will rise at different tiers of consumption. Senator Howard Stephenson shared his experience with this type of system. He received a water bill for $1,000 one month because he was not aware of the shift to a tiered system. Once aware of the system, he was more conscientious of his water usage and his next water bill was only $90. This bill can help Utah be prepared to sustain a growing population by conserving water in a smart, tested way.
There are so many issues going on that it is hard to update you on everything in a short article but I am trying to give you the highlights. As always, if you have interest in something that you hear about on the news or read about in the newspaper please contact me. I can be reached at email@example.com or my cell phone is 435-817-5565.