On Point video: Taxes and education in the Legislature — 2/12/15

 

Watch as Utah GOP party officer Michelle Mumford and political consultant Michelle Scharf discuss the latest in Utah politics and the 2015 Legislature in this edition of On Point presented by Sutherland Institute.

Click the image above to watch, or if you prefer a podcast, it can be found at the bottom of this post.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

Testimony on SB 164 (Medicaid expansion)

sutherland file pictures 007Testimony presented by Derek Monson, director of public policy, Sutherland Institute, on Feb. 11, 2015, before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee of the Utah Legislature regarding SB 164 (Access to Health Care Amendments):

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I am Derek Monson, policy director for Sutherland Institute, and I appreciate the opportunity to present our viewpoint on this important issue to you.

I would like to draw your attention to what we think is a basic policy issue regarding Senator Shiozawa’s bill. That is its impact on the people for whom the Medicaid program was actually designed to serve: disabled Utahns and low-income single parents and children.

Both thoughtful analysis and fact suggest that Sen. Shiozawa’s bill will increase the difficulties and suffering of the more than 300,000 disabled Utahns and low-income single parents and children currently in Medicaid. This is not a partisan or ideological issue. While Sutherland recognizes this problem, so do nonpartisan research organizations that argue in favor of Medicaid expansion, such as the RAND Corporation.

Neither is this just a theoretical question. In Oregon, so many people were added to the ranks of the insured through Medicaid expansion, basically overnight, that doctors and hospitals were forced to “lock out” Medicaid patients and make them “wait months for medical appointments,” as reported by the Associated Press. And in Arkansas, which expanded Medicaid using private insurance subsidies just like Healthy Utah envisions, a legislative committee heard testimony last April from state officials that providers are more “anxious” to serve newly privately insured patients than traditional Medicaid patients.

And why shouldn’t they be? In Arkansas as well as in Utah, the typical private insurance policy pays providers better than Medicaid does. And as basic economics teaches us, people respond to price incentives. The enactment of Healthy Utah clearly says to providers that they ought to prioritize the health care needs of the estimated 89,000 Medicaid expansion enrollees over the needs of the 300,000 single mothers, disabled Utahns and children left behind in traditional Medicaid. Utah’s most vulnerable will find it more difficult to find a doctor, and they will suffer longer waiting in line for needed surgeries and more intensive health care services.

Good public policy, on the other hand, would put traditional Medicaid enrollees on the same health care access footing as Medicaid expansion enrollees and everyone else, rather than excluding them and by so doing making their lives worse. Additionally, good public policy would not say to uninsured Utahns that we intend to care for their needs, only to toss them into the street the moment Washington, D.C., gets jittery about their finances. We don’t think that reflects the Utah values of providing service and helping to our neighbors in need, even when it’s difficult to do so.

In short, if “doing the right thing” means putting Medicaid expansion on the backs of disabled Utahns, single mothers and their children, then this is the bill for you. If, on the other hand, you think that serious public policy proposals should recognize and address the negative impacts they are likely to have on Utah’s most vulnerable, then I would encourage you to not vote in favor of SB 164 until it at least includes some attempt to address this critical issue.

Thank you.

Senator Hillyard has it right on raising the rainy-day fund cap

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Last week, Senator Lyle Hillyard posted to The Senate Site that he and Representative Dean Sanpei would be sponsoring legislation to raise the limits on the general and education rainy-day funds (or budget reserves) which are currently at 8 percent and 9 percent of the previous year’s budget, respectively. Their proposal would raise these limits to 9 percent of the last year’s budget for the general rainy-day fund, and 11 percent for the education rainy-day fund.

This proposal is the right thing to do for Utah taxpayers and families. It is prudent and wise fiscal policy, and Sutherland Institute supports it.

First, as Sen. Hillyard correctly notes, this policy change will “help us live and provide a stable budget in less-certain times.” As Utah’s experience during the most recent recession suggests, having a healthy source of one-time funds set aside in savings gives policymakers the flexibility and financial cushion needed to make modest (and healthy) cuts to government spending. Just as important, if not more so, building up sufficient savings protects Utahns from being forced to accept truly harmful policies – such as deep spending cuts to essential programs and services and/or significant, economically damaging tax increases.

In other words, having significant one-time savings set aside protects recession-ravaged Utah taxpayers and families from further short-term harm, such as cuts to things like safety-net services. It also protects them from spending cuts or tax increases that generate short-term gain (balancing Utah’s budget) in exchange for long-term loss (fewer jobs, less household income and slower economic growth).

Second, while Utah’s pre-recession rainy-day fund savings were significant, the Great Recession showed that they were, by themselves, inadequate. The recession required policymakers to end or reallocate certain one-time budget items – cash-funded road and building construction/maintenance, for example – instead of further cutting other government programs and services. In effect, these one-time budget items were treated as informal rainy-day funds, in order to avoid more damaging spending cuts elsewhere. There is no guarantee that these fiscal cushions will be available in the future. For instance, economic circumstances or other spending needs may not allow the Legislature to return to previous levels of cash funding for roads and buildings. This makes lifting the caps on rainy-day funds a prudent way to maintain sufficient budget reserves in the face of this uncertainty.

For these and other reasons, Sutherland Institute supports the Hillyard/Sanpei proposal to raise the current caps on state rainy-day funds. We hope that the Legislature and the governor will enact this prudent fiscal policy change into law.

A right to discriminate?

ReligiousSymbolsA common accusation made by those who oppose robust protections for religious liberty is that proponents are seeking a “right to discriminate.” The common form this argument takes is that religious liberty is already protected (say, by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) so any other concession is asking too much — it would be dangerous or scary, a license to pick and choose what laws to comply with*; it would be a right to discriminate.

Discrimination in this context is, basically, denying a person a job or a place to live or refusing to provide goods or services normally provided in the course of doing business.

To assess the validity of this accusation, some background is helpful, though necessarily I will paint with a broad brush. Religious people believe they are accountable to God in every aspect of their lives. Acting on this principle is what constitutes the “exercise of religion.” There are at least five possible categories of organizations or people who could benefit from religious liberty protections.

First are churches. The basic liberties they seek are to teach their doctrines, provide sacraments or ordinances, build and maintain places of worship and select official representatives (clergy) without interference. These aims, which may be thought of as the core religious rights, are typically protected by interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, in 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a claim from the federal government that it should be able to second-guess a church selection of a teacher in a religious school. The fact that the current administration pushed this attempt all the way to the Supreme Court is concerning, but that claim lost and there’s reason to believe that at least for now, these core religious functions are protected from direct government interference.

That’s not to say there won’t be non-governmental interference with these function, like vandalism, threats, slander, etc. Read more

On Point video: 2015 Legislature gets into its groove

Watch “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson and Michelle Mumford, former assistant dean at BYU Law School, discuss the first week of the 2015 Legislature – including the topics of Medicaid expansion, gas tax, police-community relations, education funding, religious freedom and nondiscrimination legislation – during the latest On Point broadcast. Click the image above to watch, or if you prefer a podcast, it can be found at the bottom of this post.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

2015 Legislature: Testimony supporting partisan elections for state school board (SB 104)

TUtah_State_Capitol_2008estimony given by Stan Rasmussen Tuesday, Feb. 3, before the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee regarding Education Elections and Reporting Amendments (SB 104):

Sutherland supports SB 104 because it would replace the current incoherent, convoluted and complex state school board election system with one that produces clarity, transparency and accountability for voters and parents of children in public schools.

The system proposed in SB 104 produces clarity for voters and parents by giving them the same system to select state school board members that they use for every other state elected official in Utah. This system produces transparency by adding to state school board elections the heightened media scrutiny that partisan elections create through a narrative of partisan competition, as well as the heightened voter scrutiny that comes with the caucus-convention-primary system. Finally, this system produces accountability by incorporating voters and parents into every stage of the election process, rather than just after the candidate pool has been winnowed down, as the current system does.

In closing, you have heard today, and previously, that utilizing partisan elections to select state school board members is bad policy because it injects partisan politics into the state school board. Perhaps an appropriate response to this argument is a paraphrase of Winston Churchill: “[I]t has been said that [partisan elections] are the worst form of [elections] except all … other forms that have been tried.”

We encourage you to support SB 104. Thank you.

S.L. Tribune op-ed: No reason to rush a Utah anti-discrimination law

sutherland file pictures 007(Salt Lake Tribune) Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week made an informative, thoughtful statement about the need to take a balanced approach to the connected issues of protecting the employment and housing rights of LGBT individuals and protecting everyone’s religious liberty and rights of conscience. They suggested a set of prudent principles to guide legislators’ consideration of these issues — principles Sutherland Institute endorsed shortly thereafter.

But to read the statements of the ideological left in Utah, one would think the church leaders simply said, “We support Sen. Steve Urquhart’s anti-discrimination bill, period.” In fact, the church did not announce support for any specific piece of legislation. And while political spin can be expected from those well-practiced in the craft, it gets a little awkward when the church says “Mormon leaders call for laws that protect religious freedom” (the headline on mormonnewsroom.org) but the spin machine mutates that into “In major move, Mormon leaders call for statewide LGBT protections” (the headline of The Salt Lake Tribune’s story on the news conference).

Click here to read the rest of this op-ed in the Tribune by Sutherland’s Derek Monson.

 

Rebecca Lockhart – Sutherland Soapbox, 1/27/15

lockhartuvuThis post is an expanded transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Much has been said over the last several days since the passing of former Utah Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart, and appropriately so. In a state accustomed to bidding farewell to significant leaders in their advanced age, Becky Lockhart was relatively young. But for those of us who have known and been privileged to associate with her, our feeling of loss and the genuine sense of mourning accompanying Becky’s passing arise out of more than sadness that a youthful, vibrant colleague has been taken from us in her prime. Becky Lockhart was a leader – “in every sense of the word,” as Governor Herbert emphasized in his Capitol memorial-service remarks. She was the real deal: a person whose compass, courage, capacity and compassion naturally attracted and influenced; whose work and example helped people recognize and protect what’s truly important and to preserve it, now and for posterity.

Upon the sudden death of Pres. John F. Kennedy, whose remarkable life also concluded in his 47th year, associates published their reflections under the title “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” Gratefully, because of her 16 years of public service in elective office – more than a third of her life – we knew Becky; that she was, in fact, as distinctive as she has been warmly described in posthumous expressions of praise. The many glowing tributes are not hyperbole; she was a wonderful wife and mother, a cherished friend and neighbor, and a great public servant.

Eleven years ago, my associates and I became better acquainted with Representative Lockhart when she participated in the inaugural season of the Sutherland Transcend Series, a program for elected and civic leaders grounded in dimensions of effective community and political leadership – character, intellect, and process. Taking to the opportunity like a fish to water, Becky actively engaged and in so doing enriched the experience for fellow participants and helped define the format and refine the quality for all who followed. Read more

Sutherland Institute endorses LDS Church’s principles on religious freedom and nondiscrimination

MEDIA RELEASE
For Immediate Release: Jan. 27, 2015

Sutherland Institute welcomes the helpful comments from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning on religious liberty and nondiscrimination. We endorse the principles outlined in the press conference and look forward to continuing a constructive role in ensuring respect for these principles as the Utah Legislature considers these issues.

Sutherland Institute has long called for protection of religious freedom for individuals and organizations. This principle must be reflected in any proposed legislation. Residents of Utah and citizens everywhere are entitled not just to belief, but also to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and moral conscience—both in private and in public.

Our views and those of others will be refined as a civil conversation proceeds. An early version of Sutherland Institute’s efforts on these issues is included on the Institute’s website, FairToAll.org.

We also reiterate our position that Utah can address valid concerns of mistreatment in employment and housing and public services without contributing to an environment of intolerance toward people of faith and moral conscience.

Sutherland Institute is a state-based, independent public policy organization located in Salt Lake City. Its mission: protecting the cause of freedom, constructively influencing Utah’s decision-makers, and promoting responsible citizenship. Sutherland Institute is recognized as the leading conservative think tank in the state of Utah.

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Click here to watch the press conference.

The (legislative) game is afoot

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

We’ve collected some great little tools to get you primed for this year’s legislative session: