Posts Tagged legislature

Utah’s Dueling Budget Cuts

utahcapitolGovernor Jon Huntsman has proposed state budget cuts of 7 percent. Not to be outdone, the Utah Senate Republicans are proposing cuts of a whopping 15 percent.

Senators feel the cuts will be needed to offset further revenue declines, which may come with February estimates. They are preparing for the worst, but discussed lesser cuts if revenue totals allow for it. They met at the Little America Hotel in a closed-door retreat.

While Huntsman is calling for cuts across the board, the senators are willing to cut nearly all departments including education, but roads projects, no so much.

Transportation will see its proportional cut of funding, but won’t see more the extreme cuts proposed by Huntsman, if the Senate majority has its way.

“Looking back at past years, [transportation funding] was considered another rainy day fund,” Killpack said. “We had a little more confidence in our friends at the federal level back then, but those days seem to be gone. Too much of our economic development and well-being rely on solid transportation project funding.”

No doubt there’s fat in the state budget, but I’m concerned that the transportation budget remains sacred above all the rest. Pardon my paranoia, but it sounds fishy to me. Perhaps the senators need to be a little less gung ho, and consider the guv’s more moderate across-the-board cuts.

And a word on Sunshine Laws, ethics, and meeting in secret:

Did you notice the senators “met . . . in a closed-door retreat”? Some years ago they passed a law commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law that required local government entities to meet only in properly announced public meetings except for some very limited exceptions (such as, to discuss a real estate purchase or a personnel matter, I think that’s about it). But of course, the legislature made itself exempt from this law.

Since ethics is another big topic on the table for this coming session, I’d like to see the legislature submit itself to the same rules it has placed upon other government entities. Stop meeting behind closed doors to do the people’s business. It makes it look like you have something to hide and makes us distrust you.

Let the sunshine in, brethren.

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Let’s play Spot the Conflict of Interest

We’ll make this like a little game of Connect the Dots, Utah Legislature version.

The SL Trib reports:

Critics hope that, without water plans for Utah’s first nuclear power plant will evaporate.

To that end, they recently filed formal protests with the State Engineer’s Office aimed at stopping the Kane County Water Conservancy District from preserving its right to 29,600 acre-feet of water already under lease by the reactor’s developers.

Utah law puts the public’s needs first, giving communities extra flexibility to ensure any future needs of their residents. [snip]

Aaron Tilton, chief executive officer of Transition Power Development LLC, the company behind the 1,500-megawatt nuclear station, is paying the water district $100,000 a year to lease the water right. His company also has promised $500,000 a year after five years, and $1 million a year once the plant comes online (emphasis mine).

“We haven’t even paid much attention to it,” Tilton said, noting that he hasn’t seen the protests.

Mike Noel, the water district’s administrator, isn’t worried either. [snip]

“Their agenda is to stop any construction and growth in Utah,” Noel said. “It’s not an environmental agenda. It’s a no-growth agenda.”

Let’s take a closer look and connect the dots (some of the following excerpted from my own blog post of October 2007 with attribution to the Deseret News):

  • Aaron Tilton is chief executive officer of Transition Power Development LLC.
  • Mike Noel is the exeuctive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District.
  • Noel is chairman of the Legislature’s Public Utilities and Technology Committee, and Tilton is vice chairman.
  • Both men are members of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee, which is co-chaired by Noel. The interim committee heard extensive testimony for and against nuclear power in its July and September [2007] meetings.
  • A bill to assist utilities in building nuclear power plants was discussed extensively by the Public Utilities Interim Committee on July 18 and Sept. 19 [2007] (emphasis mine).
  • Concerning the bill that was discussed July 18 and Sept. 19, Tilton said that he has no conflicts of interest. “I really don’t have a conflict of interest, because I’m not a regulated utility,” he said, and the bill dealt with those utilities.”
  • On his Declaration of Conflict of Interest form, Noel noted that he was associated with several groups: Michael E. Noel Environmental Consulting, Flood Canyon Ranch and Kane County Water Conservancy District. But he said it was not a conflict to co-chair the committee that is considering legislation involving a nuclear power plant. “The district is a public entity, like a city, a community, leasing water to them,” meaning the nuclear power plant, he said. ‘We’re a public utility. I work for the water district as a paid employee.'”

So if you own/run a business or if you control a public works operation, and you also have legislative power recommending approval or regulation of those things, would that be a conflict of interest? Just asking.

And remember, this post is not about the merits of nuclear power in Utah, it is about conflict of interest. Interestingly enough, the Salt Lake Tribune recently had an article entitled, New Utah House Speaker Clark says ethics reform top priority. As we saw with recent ethics investigations in the Utah legislature, our ethics laws are so puny, it doesn’t matter how blatant the misbehavior of our elected officials, no actual rules are ever broken.

UPDATE: I corrected the date and link to my original post on this topic.

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