2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of education transparency bill

Testimony given by Derek Monson before the Senate Education Committee on Monday:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Derek Monson and I am Director of Policy with Sutherland Institute. I am here to speak in favor of SB 128.

In the broad context, while this bill is about transparency, what that means is it is really about good representative government.  Without access to information, there is no transparency. Without transparency you do not have good representative government, because people do not know how to make decisions concerning their elected officials.

Concerning the particulars of the legislation, which are important, I would suggest that you trust the Utah Transparency Advisory Board, which is tasked with administering the Utah Public Finance Website and will be tasked with getting this information to the public. They have done a spectacular job of taking complex data with a lot of intricate coding, accounting rules, etc., and making it public in a way that people can get a basic understanding of what is going on with their tax dollars; and if not, they can call someone to find out. The same thing will happen here.

We recommend you support SB 128 as a “step in the right direction” toward increased transparency in public school finances.  Thank you.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill, which will go to the Senate floor next. You can find more coverage of this bill here in The Salt Lake Tribune and here in the Deseret News.

2013 Legislature: Lockhart and Niederhauser on Medicaid expansion

During the 2013 Sutherland Institute Legislative Policy Conference, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser shared their thoughts on whether they believe Utah should accept Medicaid expansion as part of Obamacare’s implementation. See video below:


They both stated strongly they prefer to receive a block grant that would allow Utah to craft its own solutions. Since 2006, Sutherland has written extensively on the power of an authentic charity care system that would feature the private sector helping our fellow Utahns in need, in lieu of government expansion. Read more

State tax revenue update shows a “marginally” improving economy and outlook

The latest tax revenue estimates reported to the Legislature’s Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee today showed that general and education fund revenues (mostly sales & use tax and personal/corporate income taxes, respectively) for fiscal year 2011 came in $80 million higher than originally projected. Additionally, transportation fund revenues (mostly gas taxes and automobile-related fees) are estimated to be $10 million lower than originally projected. These are still preliminary estimates, so the final numbers may yet change, but they indicate an economic environment that is improving, although slowly.

One legislator summarized what these figures mean for Utah’s economy by saying that property values and unemployment in the state are improving “marginally.” There was agreement with the sentiment that Utah’s economy is improving, but only slowly.

Capitol Daily Video: Legislature approves 90 new liquor licenses

During its special session on Wednesday, the Utah Legislature approved 90 new liquor licenses. Watch this video report to learn more, including an interview with Sen. John Valentine (R-Orem):


Here’s the script of the video:  Read more

Capitol Daily Memo: DCFS working to provide more in-home services, send fewer kids to foster care

A few days ago, we highlighted an audit of the state’s Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) performed by Utah’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General. During today’s Judiciary Interim Committee meeting, DCFS reported on the progress it has made after receiving the audit in January of 2011.

The good news for Utahns is that all parties involved agree on this major point: children are almost always better off when the help they receive happens in the home. Studies consistently show that allowing children to stay in the home while improving that home environment leads to healthier, safer and happier children.  Read more

Capitol Daily Memo: “backwater” – Utah public lands bill or “extreme” environmentalism?

Today, a legislative committee received an update on the state’s progress in implementing H.B. 148, a bill passed this year with the goal of giving Utah greater access to its public lands in order to maintain state autonomy and increase funding for Utah schools.

As part of debate in the meeting, Vince Rampton, Democratic candidate for Utah lieutenant governor, argued that the Legislature’s efforts to take back public lands represent a “backwater” approach. According to Rampton, the state needs to use a “constructive” approach by engaging in a true partnership with the federal government rather than “drawing lines.”

Reps. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) and Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) took exception to Rampton’s comments. Noel replied by saying the true “backwater” approach is that of the federal government and environmentalists who place the well being of owls and beetles above the well being of people. According to Noel, these parties are the “extremists” because they allow public lands to go untended, resulting in wildfires and other harm to citizens and communities.  Read more

Capitol Daily Memo: tax deductions, exemptions and credits in Utah

Today, the Legislature’s Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee discussed the number and amount of deductions, exemptions and credits in Utah’s tax system (property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes). These policies impact the lives of Utahns and their families in various significant ways: from whether people can afford to stay in their homes to how well they can support and provide for their family’s needs.

The takeaway from the committee meeting was simple: there are a whole lot of deductions, exemptions and credits in Utah’s tax system.

For instance, there are 21 categories of property tax exemptions mentioned in the Utah Constitution. One of the more prominent ones is the 45 percent exemption on the value of a homeowner’s property. In other words, Utahns’ property tax bill is calculated by taking the property tax rate and multiplying it by 55 percent of a homeowner’s property value, rather than the full property value. This has the effect of reducing the amount of property taxes Utah taxpayers would otherwise pay.  Read more

Capitol Daily Memo: Common Core bills lead to exchange with Secretary of Education

SB 287 passed the Senate yesterday on a 50-23-2 vote and now heads to the governor for his signature. The bill would give Utah the ability to exit any agreement involving the state’s core curriculum for public schools for any reason. The bill specifically mentions the following reasons:

  • The cost of developing or implementing standards is too high
  • The standards are inconsistent with community values
  • The agreement violates federal law or conflicts with state law
  • The agreement requires the state to include student data or records of teacher performance in a national or multi-national database
  • The agreement imposes curriculum, assessment or data-tracking requirements on home school or private school students

This bill, along with SCR 13, a bill that would urge the State Board of Education to reconsider its decision to adopt Common Core standards, seems to have encouraged Superintendent Larry Shumway to send a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asserting the state board’s “right to complete control of Utah’s learning standards in all areas of our public education curriculum.”  Read more

Capitol Daily Video: Common Core and Utah schools

A bill that would give Utah the ability to exit any agreement regarding its core curriculum for public schools has cleared the House and the Senate. Watch this video report to learn more about SB 287:


Capitol Daily Video: parental rights and the state

Representative LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) is sponsoring a bill that would affirm parental rights and help prevent the state from unnecessarily removing children from their homes. Watch this video report to learn more about HB 161: