Gaming the Legislature

With the election behind us and leadership positions firmed up, legislators are scrambling to put together the list of priorities for the upcoming legislative session. With only 45 days to work, it's a mad dash to have all of the bills written, the arguments formed, and the votes secured long before the call to order. I'm hoping they stick to the Three S's of State and Local Government: Safety, Schools, and Streets.

This last legislative session saw a massive failure to pass meaningful transportation spending leaving Salt Lake and Utah Counties in the unenviable position of having to raise taxes during a surplus to pay for transportation needs. If the Legislature doesn't get it in gear, St. George might have to follow suit to cover its own burgeoning population. I'm hoping that the Legislature will do more than just prioritize the tax increases. It had better commit significant funds towards corridor preservation and accelerated construction. They'd also better look at ways to reduce demand such as tax credits for telecommuting and encouraging people to live near where they work. Los Angeles tried the arms race of building capacity faster than demand and lost that one big time.

There's been a lot of debate over tolling and I'm fearful that legislators will try and take the easy way out by caving in on it. Yes, it's probably cheaper, but you're getting an inferior product. Just look at the cities cashing in on "free" WiFi. The speeds stink, the security is non-existent, the range is short, but dang did we save our citizens a lot of money! C'mon guys. Roads are one of the few things we expect you to take care of. Step up to the plate, make a few hard choices, and just get it done the right way.

We can expect to see the voucher bill introduced yet again. It's about as predictable as tulips blooming in the spring and continued violence in the Middle East. (I suspect the process of getting the bill to a vote, much less passed, will be a lot like the latter.) The UEA will step in again with it's long list of FUD to derail it, high on their victory in court that turned on the spigots of public money for their lobbying. Parents for Choice in Education will fight back, and if the bill comes to a vote, it'll be a narrow victory. Expect this to come to a head with powerful PACs on both sides.

On the safety front, we probably aren't going to hear much despite a national shortage of Highway Patrol officers. (California, Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee, among others, are having trouble getting to full staff.) I hope the Legislature will be forward-thinking in keeping the salaries up to the level that cities are paying. A big cause of staffing problems is that cities often raise the wages for officers faster than the state, so the state becomes a revolving door for folks wanting to get their foot in the door before jumping ship to a better-paying job. Given how reactive the folks on the hill are, I'm not expecting this to be addressed properly before it becomes a crisis.

I think we're also going to see some other power groups shopping around this session. Banks and credit unions will go to the mat again. Realtors and developers will bring gobs of money to the table fishing for favorable legislation. Walmart is going to push hard for its industrial bank. Special interest groups will try getting the minimum wage hiked (though I doubt they will succeed) and dozens of little groups will talk up the little slice of the surplus pie that they want for whatever pet project it is they want state funding for. (I'm personally hoping that my presentation to the Utah Technology Commission on Wednesday will garner a change in the law if not outright financial support for UTOPIA.) It's going to be a regular cacophony of voices claiming their needs are greatest and the winners are the ones who started doing the talking last week.

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