The County Seat – 2019 Utah Legislative Preview

The County Seat – 2019 Utah Legislative Preview

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Hello everybody welcome to The County Seat, I’m your host Chad Booth. Legislative 2019 Season
is just around the corner starting on
the January 28th just days away and
we decided as we typically do it
would be good to get a preview of what
kind of impact the counties are going to
see in the legislative morass the
stew that is cooked up there. Joining us
from Utah Association of Counties CEO Adam Trupp and Lincoln Schertz
who is the government affairs guru
for the Utah Association of Counties.
It does not matter what topic I talk
about Lincoln already knows everything about it. So if you had to pick
one topic going to be the toy hauler
of this junket what would it be? I think the big issue every year
it’s going to be budget. Obviously
in a 45 day session in addition to the thousand pieces of legislation
they are going to make they are going
to balance a 19 billion dollar
budget this year which is a significant
increase over the previous year and to
give you some perspective over the
last 10 years we have almost doubled
the size of Utah State budget so 10
years ago we were looking at about a
10 billion dollar budget this year
coming in at about 19 billion dollars
lots of money to be spent lots of
priorities as you can imagine there are always more spending requests then
there is money regardless of how much we have there is always more
spending requests so we will be debating
that pretty heavily. So none of this talk about well
maybe we are collecting too much tax
has dropped on the ears of the legislature? Certainly it has if you look at
the Governor and his budget he had a couple hundred million dollar
tax reduction included in his budget while he was also funding
significant programs pretty big increase in education funding and throwing a bunch of money at clean
initiatives about 100 million dollars going
to clean air then a substantial
amount going to infrastructure funding
as well so even with those
additional spending items in the Governor’s budget he is still suggesting a
couple hundred million dollar budget reduction in terms of tax cuts
that come to Utah. How does that trickle down to counties and county government? Quite a few ways actually.
There are partnerships that counties have
with the state where activities and responsibilities have been
delegated to counties and those that cost county dollars and a lot of what
we try to do we go into the session
as prioritize what we are asking
for on behalf of our membership and see what we can do to improve
funding for certain areas that we have responsibilities for jail
funding is one big one that happens frequently
we have behavioral mental health substance abuse funding that we
try to add to now we have some
courts related criminal substance abuse related to. I hear you talk about this huge
budge governor talking about making
roll backs and yet I hear you talking
about some of the very things that for
nine years we have been talking about inadequate reimbursement in
jails not enough help for mental
health in regards to criminal justice
issues over roads so the problems still
continue but the coffer rises how do you explain that. Again I think there is color to
the money. Right. Counties have a separate budget than does the
state and the state is balancing its
budget and partnering with the counties
but just because the state is flush
does not necessarily mean the
counties or the cities for that matter are
flush we have very different revenue
sources that we rely on in order to fund
our respective budgets and one thing that you will notice in the
state of Utah we are seeing immense
amount of growth in income tax because
we have unemployment rates hovering around 3 percent which is unprecedented lows and so you
are seeing this huge influx of
income tax guess what cities and counties
don’t get any income tax that all
goes to schools and to fund higher
education an K-12 education so again it’s
the mix of those dollars and how
those come in and recognizing where we are seeing growth counties and
cities are not necessarily
participating in that. I think we look at that too one
of the issues is recognized as state population grows as we develop
in different areas there are needs
that expand we don’t have the ability
to stay still when we are in a
situation where the kind of growth we have and kind of development we are having. One of the fascinating things
the Kem Gardner Institute which
affiliated with the Univ. of Utah did a
recent study again we are seeing an unprecedented growth with the
state there are 11 counties that are actually experiencing on of the
most significant recessions at the
same time in the state seeing the
most unprecedented growth. The
reason is we have many of our counties
that are relying on natural resource extraction. That is not
occurring at the same rate it used to be
occurring so with that again you are
seeing this tale of two Utah’s where you see huge growth along the Wasatch
Front and not so much in rural. It is a very real thing I was
just in a conversation with one of our
class 6 counties and they have newly
elected officials and they are thinking
maybe we don’t need to be in UAC maybe we don’t need to be going to the legislature maybe we don’t need
to be doing that we don’t need
county cars all this kind of
conversation going on which means things are tight for them but that is kind
of leads me to another quandary in your situation you are going up
against an education lobby for a lot of
this general fund they are very
active and have a lot of advocates how important is the support from
county elected officials to UAC to make
this work on behalf of counties. I think it is crucial. The
concept from my point of view if you are not participating in the discussion
or dialogue your voice is not going
to be heard if you do not have a way
to be heard through UAC or through
other means if you are not there
yourself people don’t understand and will
not pay attention to what is absent
as effectively and carefully as
they do what is right in front of them. The old saying at the
legislature if you are not at the table you’re on
the menu. So in your experience in the legislature do legislators and
senators count noses? Absolutely and again what is
really hard if you look at it we have a
lot of school children the needs of the
state in terms of education are
significant for economic development and a whole list of other issues and candidly speaking paving roads
is not as interesting to legislators as
it is funding school kids. So there
is a significant disadvantage that is inherent to our job of going up
and trying to compel them to
participate in programs that would otherwise
be competing with education funding prisoners not quite as appealing
as funding school children. Until they are all out on the
street. Exactly. There are a lot of other things
we want to talk about we are going
to take quick break on The County
Seat and we’ll be back with Adam
Trupp and Lincoln Schertz from UAC. Welcome back to The County Seat
we are having a conversation about
the upcoming legislative session I
guess shifting gears from budget let’s
talk about tax reform if there is so
much imbalance what are the tax
reformers talking about. One of the big issues on tax
reform is what we just describing in
seeing this huge growth in the income tax
which by constitution can only fund education so it’s currently
funding public end on the other hand if
you are looking at the general fund
which funds all the other services corrections Medicaid you name
every other service that comes out of
the general fund its largely funded through sales tax and what we
are seeing as a decline in sales tax
or a slowing of the growth is a
better way of putting it in sales tax where
you are seeing unprecedented growth
in the income tax but because constitutionally we bifurcated
the budget all these other programs
are suffering whereas education
funding is growing at a rate higher than
the rest of the general fund. What
that means to the budget guys is somehow we have to rebalance the structure to make sure we are
seeing growth it’s going to keep up
with demand and population growth in the state and the way in which
you do that the way we have been
doing it in the past is increasing the
rate on sales tax but what we are really seeing is the shrinking of the
base. People are buying less stuff and buying more services in the
state of Utah we do not tax services we
tax stuff. Do you think that is going to be
one of the things that is going to
be on the table? Once of the very significant
things is what do we do with professional services and accounting legal services. You name it those are
the sorts of things they are looking
at and again it’s a recognition that
the economy when we created the
sales tax system in the 1930 and 40s
what a product based system and now
we move to a service based economy and how do we reflect that in
our budgeting so can fund the
services that Utah citizens are asking
for. A question if our population is growing so much how come our
sales tax is not growing at the same
rate it should be shouldn’t it? The sales tax is growing it’s
just not growing as fast as it used to
grow and it’s not keeping up with the
demands. The cost of governmental
services is outpacing the growth in the
sales tax that is being brought on by population. One thing that
would possibly change that you have noticed your tax bill lately
when you buy something on line you are
now paying sales tax on those on
line purchases which is relatively
new based on the supreme court
decision that came out last year the hope
is that we capture at least some of
the tax revenue that was escaping
the state by people not submitting
their use tax when they filed their
taxes at the end of the year. So what do we want to look at
here? In terms of county and city
issues on tax reform one of the other
things they are looking at is we are
seeing huge increases in real estate
costs and trying to figure out the development patterns that we
have traditionally had in the past
are changing and need to change to accommodate the growth we expect and one of the things we are
looking at there is changing increments
or planning on bringing in on big
box retailers to attract the sales
tax revenue and it would come in
based on where you bought a product
they are looking at tweaking some of those distribution list to make
it more population centric versus point
of sale centric and the hope is
then cities and counties will start
looking more at affordable housing and density and some of those other issues versus how do I get a
Walmart. So one would obviously think
well that impact would have great
effect on rural Utah areas because
Richfield with the Walmart would get all
the taxes and Monroe and Maryvale
and the rest of them down there
would not. Under the current system that is essentially how it is working if Richfield’s gets the money
because that is where the point of sale occurred but they are looking at doing is possibly changing to a population base system so Monroe and all the other communities
that are supporting the Richfield
store the money would follow them home. Wouldn’t that have an impact in urban areas as well? I’m
thinking Holladay they are missing a mall
they used to generate a lot of
revenue and they can’t seem quite to figure
out what to do with it. Murray city with 50 car
dealerships if you change point of sale and now make it population all the
sudden Murray a significant amount of money based on that change in
the distribution. It’s a big shift
and a big impact if it were to pass. Do you think that is going to be
one of the ugliest fights it has
been for the last 20 years. Comes up
every 5 years and it’s a knock down drag
out. Zero sum game right you are
splitting an existing amount of money differently there is going to be winners and losers and that’s a
tough conversation in the legislature. We are going to take another
quick break and be back with more of
our conversation about upcoming
issues in the legislation on The County
Seat. Welcome back to the county seat
we are talking with Adam Trupp and Lincoln Schertz some of our
county seat regulars about the upcoming legislative session always
exciting time I have to tell you a little
story. Occasionally I ask for rating information about the show and
abc4 gives me the summaries the guy
that brought me the information last
year said what the heck were you guys doing in January and February
and March you audience doubled. It’s
the legislature everybody want to
know what is going on. So let’s talk
about infrastructure. That is a big
national trend we are talking about all
the bridges we are supposed to be
fixed 3 terms ago and how is Utah doing
in the infrastructure game? Well if there is one theme of
this legislative session I think it’s
going to be growth. I think everything
related to growth is getting attention
in legislature whether it’s what we talked about earlier which is affordable housing the change of
the economy clearly growth related.
The next is infrastructure we still regardless of what we put
forward in terms of new revenue sources for infrastructure and I am talking transportation we still have
about a 7 billion dollar short fall in
funding for capacity projects. That does
not even include maintenance and
operation and the existing facilities.
That is just the short fall of what we
anticipate on the capacity side. 7 billion
is half of the state’s budget this year
again you can see we are facing a
pretty big hurdle the almost more
significant hurdle is water. We live in the
desert second most arid state in the
nation and we have not built a new
water project since the conversation
core into eh 1930’s project when you
look at our dams and infrastructure
its very old and needs a lot of maintenance and we have this
huge population influx that wants
more water. So what are we going to
do with the Bear River Pipeline
what are we going to do with the Saint
George Pipeline what are going to do
with these areas that are seeing
expansive growth and literally no water so water conservation but also its
about 6 or 7 billion dollars on the
water side as well just capacity projects
and water development. Do you even think in the environmental world that we live
in now that we could even get a reservoir project passed? It’s possible I think we have to
but the real issue in that too is
the length of time it takes to get through
the process from planning and
approval the idea of moving forward
funding approval and then through the completion it’s a year’s long
project and yet if we are not making
moves forward now we have a definite problem that we cannot solve quickly. It just staggers my mind one of
the first episodes we did in our
very first season was about the lake Powell pipeline and it doesn’t seem
like it’s any further along than it was. As with anything, money makes things become real once we start allocating money to these
projects then they become more real and start going through the NEPA environmental process to get something approved. A lot of
people want to turn to conservation, conservation is important and it
has to be part of the conversation
but keep in mind of the state use
there is about 7% of the state water that
is being used in municipal
industrial which means the water we use in
our homes water our lawns and take
care of our families. If you did a
25% reduction and use you are
actually only moving the water needle
about 1 or 2 percent in total use in
the state of Utah. One of the big
conversations that is going to be taking place
as well is what we do with the
agricultural use and what do we do with some
of the laws that encourage candidly wasting water in order to
maintain your water rights. So there is
going to be a very broad conversation
about water but certainly part of that
is going to be the development of
new water projects and the
maintenance of their existing water projects
that are certainly in need of
significant reinvestment based on their life cycle. Do you see Utah becoming a nonagricultural state I mean
it’s like the second largest economy
sector that we have its ahead of
tourism. I don’t see it becoming
ultimately but there is going to be pressure in
that direction certainly a
contraction of what we are able based on the expansion housing and
residential use and there are other
interests but the fact is we are going to have
to take a look t how that works
over time and what is possible
Lincoln makes a great point if we are
going to really conserve water we have
got to look at the largest impact and
the largest likely impact to act on.
That has to include agricultural. Any other infrastructure things
out there. One of the things your viewers
should know the legislatures in
December did pay off the 250 million
dollar bond that they issues to build
the state prison so they paid that
off in cash the reason they did that is
to free up bonding capacity
recognizing these infrastructures coming to
keep their bonding rating where they wanted it they had to remove
some of their debt they incurred
earlier to create some headroom for some additional debt. Speaking of infrastructure have
you guys had any reports on how the prison is coming along? Prison is coming along they just
250 million dollars I think it will
come around a little bit quicker its
being done and certainly as it relates
to inland port there is a lot of
cross pollination between those 2
projects and lots of work going in to do
the infrastructure so start the
vertical work you will start seeing
pretty soon. Alright we will take our last
break and take the rest of our time to
talk about Medicaid expansion we will be
right back with the County Seat in
just a minute. Welcome back to The County Seat
we are having our prelegislative
POW wow here so we can get idea of
what issues you should be watching
out for no matter where you live in the
state. We have seen a pheromone that used to only be in California
and that was initiatives. 15 or 20 years
ago I never heard of initiatives here
just seldom happen whether its state wide with marijuana or voting process even locally like go
back to Holladay with the old mall site initiatives are taking center
stage and they are pushing back against legislative action. What do we
do about initiatives what is
happening there? Part of the issue the supreme
court has ruled twice on initiatives
issue and what they have always tried
to do is constitutionally
essentially the rule is any legislative decision
that is made is referable administrative decision administering the law
is not referable but legislative
decision are the supreme court in its recent rulings has expanded the
definition of what is include in a legislative decision. So now you are seeing decisions that traditionally
though were administrative in nature
being reclassified as legislative in
nature which mean they are referable.
On the local side mostly seeing it
in land use and again that is a factor
of growth people are seeing people come into their communities in droves much more dense housing a lot more apartments and condos
and its changing the characteristics
of neighborhoods and so citizens
are getting anxious about that.
Probably the biggest thing that has
changed on the state wide stage is
signature gathering and professional
signature gathering. So it’s very high
hurdle to get over in terms of getting an initiative on the ballot by a
state by state basis. But with
professional signature gathers you are
starting to see that trend changing. Last
year we had four initiatives medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion, voters rights issues and tax
issues. So you are starting to see that
things are changing in terms of initiatives
you could argue on one hand it’s a response to the legislature not listening to the will of the
people on the other hand you could say
more of a process based issue whereby
it’s easier to get things on ballot
then to go to legislature. I guess the question I wrestle
with on this I’ll be brief if
initiatives take over and everything settled by
initiatives then we have become Rome in a democracy and we no longer a representative republic what are
your thoughts on that. I’m a lobbyist at the
legislature so I love the legislative process and
I think that is the place in which we
should have these fights that is how it
was intended to occur a republic not
a direct democracy however kind of
a push back on the other side if
you look at the legislature and the
Utah legislature in particular they
had 4 shots at Medicaid expansion and
they passed. What did the voters do
they put it on the ballot they had 4
shots at medical marijuana they
passed. What did the voters do they put
it on the ballot. I think there is at
least some argument that could be made but legislature we are giving
you a shot but if you are not going to
listen to the will of the people there
is a process by which we can go
around you and it is clear at least
this year the voting public thought it was
time to go around the legislature who
had passed. Really this is an issue of
balance. How many initiatives how easy is
it to get an initiative on the ballot
and how easy is it to get it passed
that it’s a good think to have an
initiatives and have people go directly to
the ballot on these questions but
often it goes too far what we will see or
too complex to put into effect so
what we will see is the ability and
need for the legislature to come back and make some modifications like the broad issue, Which you do see if you look at medical marijuana early December the legislature came back and
said we are going to honor the will of
the people generally speaking but we have to make some administrative tweaks in order to actually
administer the law that was passed the same things is going to happen in the legislative session day 2 of the session there will be a bill
introduced on Medicaid expansion and the
idea behind the bill is to address
some of the budget issues that were not identified in the legislation or
the initiative and address those
through legislation so we will see an expansion of Medicaid I think
the legislature already showed their
hand they do want to expand Medicaid
it’s going to look different then
what the voters passed its going to be fascinating for me to watch is
at least I watch these things how recoil
are you going to get from the voting public by tweaking and how many can you make before the voting public shakes their finger at
you. I imagine plenty. Gentlemen
thank you for taking the time thank
you for tuning in be sure to share with
on social media with friends talk
to us on social media we love the
engagement got an opinion please express it
civilly of course and we will see you
next week on The County Seat.

One thought on “The County Seat – 2019 Utah Legislative Preview

  • Joe Bennett Post author

    Lincoln Shurtz is way too giddy about raising taxes. Stop with the taxes from progressive socialists (Utah conservatives).

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