Pignanelli & Webb: It's a tradition for your columnists to help readers understand the escapades of each just-adjourned legislative session using the language of the Academy Awards, March Madness, spring training, etc. We keep hearing that anything related to Donald Trump increases newspaper readership. So, in a heroic attempt to bolster Deseret News circulation, this year we graciously use Trumpisms to illustrate legislative work.
"Its YUUUGE!" The Legislature provides $432 million in new money for public education. Gov. Gary Herbert actually compliments lawmakers for outdoing his budget. Democrats and advocates say it is still not enough, and their attempts to boost funding are shot down. But momentum could be building for a bigger investment next year (always next year).
"It’s beautiful." Central casting could not have selected two more different personalities than Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (reserved, cerebral, deliberative) and House Speaker Greg Hughes(passionate, energetic, outspoken). In other states this could be a recipe for stalemate. But the polar opposites are dedicated conservatives committed to the legislative process, so once again the "Utah Way" prevailed.
“I’m really, really rich.” Sales tax earmarks for transportation have resulted in unprecedented money flowing into highway projects. So the governor and lawmakers, even strong transportation advocates, agreed to take some away and give it to education and water projects.
“I like people who weren’t captured.” Lawmakers and the business community hotly debated whether the taking of corporate “prisoners” via non-compete agreements should be outlawed. The committee hearings and public presentations were among the best seen in years. A compromise bill finally passed.
"Squirmish." In her endorsement of Trump, Sarah Palin invented a new word apparently combining skirmish and squeamish. It may be in dictionaries soon. Lawmakers were a little squirmish in debating elimination of the death penalty, aggressively skirmishing in a squeamish sort of way.
“Look at my hands. Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards. Are they small hands?” Republicans flexed some political muscle by adding two GOP slots to the Legislative Audit Committee, and giving GOP leaders the ability to break tie votes on the Legislative Management Committee. Dems were unhappy but it could have been worse.
"Art of the deal." Legislation promoted by Rocky Mountain Power to allow funding of its Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan and restructure energy rates was expected to be the major battle of the session. Under the careful tutelage of Sen. Stuart Adams, the deal-making among the many interests was artful and resulted in an armistice for most of the session. A hostile flare-up occurred at the end, but never the protracted open warfare.
"Closing the deal." Medicaid expansion has failed for a number of years. House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan crafted a delicate compromise providing health care access to 16,000 very low-income Utahns. Trump-like deal-making funded the program ($30 million from the state, $70 million federal and $13.5 million from Utah hospitals). Critics on the left and right were grumpy, but pragmatic problem-solvers knew only this kind of deal could pass to help vulnerable Utahns.
"Tremendous." Sen. Curt Bramble is the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. For any other human, this would be a major distraction during the session. But nothing stopped the Provo dynamo from being the go-to guy on several tough issues.
"I am very flexible." Lawmakers said no to open use of medical marijuana, and almost approved state control and distribution of "weed." The issue will return next session, providing more opportunities for Gov. Herbert to say "doobie."
"I’m very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words." Higher education received a heavy infusion of cash. However, legislators rewarded the University of Utah's refusal to play BYU in basketball with an audit and tight purse.
"Low energy." For months, some lawmakers grumbled about SB54 (the Count My Vote compromise bill) and the signature-gathering route it allows to get on the ballot. They took no action over the past year. A federal court advisory indicating parts of the law are likely unconstitutional sparked a flurry of talk, but it all fizzled, punting any resolution back to the court.
“Make Draper great again.” Lawmakers approved $800,000 to study how to turn the current prison site at Point of the Mountain into a high-tech campus corridor linking south Salt Lake County to northern Utah County.
"I’ll build a great deep water port — and mineral royalties will pay for it." Legislators debated a HUGE idea — constructing a $53 million deep-water port in California to export Utah coal and other products to foreign markets.
“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime … and some, I assume, are good people.” Lawmakers discussed the criminal element infiltrating the homeless population in downtown Salt Lake City and passed significant legislation and funding to provide additional shelters and services for the non-criminal homeless.
“I don’t wear a toupee. It’s my hair. I swear.” For the record, Pignanelli & Webb have real hair as well. We know you were wondering.
Congrats to lawmakers and everyone associated for another productive session.