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Utah Legislative Session , Week 3


Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010


The third week of the 2010 Utah State Legislative Session consisted of a finalization of the FY2010 budget. Due to lower revenues, the state budget had a deficit of approximately $185 million. Legislative leadership decided to implement several of the FY2010 reduction recommendations that came from the various appropriations subcommittees. Leaders also decided to use approximately $87 million from the “Rainy Day” reserve fund. The cuts were part of H.B. 3 and were passed by both chambers and include an approximate $20 million cut to higher education (public education received about a $1.5 million cut).

The cut to higher education was about $6 million lower than what was proposed in December 2009 and will be largely covered by the 3 percent cost of living reduction mandated by Governor Herbert by executive order. In addition, each institution will have to absorb its share of approximately $650,000 restored to the New Century Scholarship (the Utah State University portion of this additional cut will be approximately $130,000). Because USU had already been implementing measures to make up for the governor’s 3 percent COLA reduction, this cut will be absorbed by actions like adjustments of quasi-endowments and the 5 percent voluntary pay cut by USU administration. 
 
Revenue consensus numbers for Fiscal Year 2011 will be presented to the Executive Appropriations Committee Tuesday, Feb. 16. These numbers come from an array of economic experts who use complex models and empirical data to forecast likely tax revenues. Based on the analysis, the Legislative Fiscal Analyst and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget then reach a budget consensus and ultimately work with legislative leadership to set the FY2011 budget figures. Of course, these numbers can always be adjusted later and cuts can be made in special sessions or in the following legislative session (like the current H.B. 3 for Fiscal Year 2010 despite the fact that the university is already more than half way into FY2010). Once these consensus numbers are approved by the Executive Appropriations Committee (expected on Feb. 16), legislators can begin work on strategies for programming the FY2011 budget. 
 
It is expected that there will be further cuts for FY2011 given that there was a one-time 8 percent “backfill” supplementing the 17 percent FY2010 budget cut. This ongoing 8 percent will have to be accounted for and leadership has asked for a preparation of an additional 5 percent cut. Most believe, however, that the full 13 percent cut will not occur, and that the use of the Rainy-Day Fund for FY2010 may be a good indicator that legislators believe the economy has “bottomed out” and they may be willing to invest more of these funds for a one-time FY2011 boost.
 
Also approved in the Senate Education Committee was S.B.69 (S1), the USU/CEU affiliation bill. This bill was unanimously approved in committee and now moves to the Senate Floor for approval. In addition, the Capital Facilities Appropriations Subcommittee recommended four buildings for future bonds. Two of these four buildings include buildings at Dixie State College and Utah Valley University. Senator Niederhauser’s sponsored bill, S.B. 35, to release the state bond funds for the USU College of Agriculture building is still pending and could be included in the final building package, if one materializes. One of the buildings proposed to be funded with non-state funds, Phase I of a classroom building at the Utah Botanical Center, was also on the list approved by the Subcommittee.
 
The Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) works with the legislative representatives to track legislative bills on a semi-weekly basis. Below is a list of some of the legislation that USHE is tracking along with USU:
 
  • HB 114, Disclosure of Donations, by Rep. Carl Wimmer, would require higher education institutions to annually disclose to the Board of Regents donations or gifts of $50,000 or more from foreign persons. A closer reading of the bill presented a number of problems, including the need to know the citizenship of donors, a requirement to report all foreign donors if it was a “directed gift” and a requirement to determine the extent of foreign ownership of domestic corporations. Rep. Wimmer has agreed to amendments we proposed to address these issues. Bill and amendments will likely be voted on in the house Tuesday or Wednesday (Feb. 16, 17). 
  • HB 134, Education Donation Tax Credit, by Rep. Evan Vickers, creates a non-refundable tax credit for donations to public K-12 and higher education institutions. 
  • HB 194, Grants for Math Teacher Training, by Rep. Brad Last, provides the State Office of Education $250,000 to use for grants to public or non-profit higher education institution to provide math teaching training to individuals who are not currently teachers but who have already earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • HB 215*, PEHP Amendments, by Rep. Kevin Garn, broadens the eligibility for higher education institutions to allow them to participate in the state risk pool for PEHP health insurance. Passed the House Friday (Feb. 12), 71-0; now goes to the Senate.
  • HJR 24, Resolution on Equal Treatment by Government, by Rep. Curtis Oda, is a proposed constitutional amendment promoted by national activist Ward Connerly who has advanced similar measures in other states to prevent certain types of affirmative action. Approved by House Law Enforcement Committee Friday (Feb. 12), 10-4, and is scheduled for a “time-certain” for a vote by the full House Tuesday (Feb. 16). It is unclear what impact, if any, this would have on higher education institutions.
  • SB 35*, Capital Facilities Bonds Amendments, by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, allows the USU Agriculture Science Classroom Building to move forward as separate buildings — one funded by the federal government and the other by the state.
  • SB 42, 43 & 94 Retirement Amendments, by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, is a package of bills to make some dramatic changes to the State Retirement System, effecting future retirees. While the goals are sustainability, the impacts may be far-reaching. Approximately one-third of higher education employees participate in this system. SBs 43 & 94 were approved by a vote of 3-2 by the Senate Retirement Committee Friday (Feb. 12); now goes to full Senate.
  • SB52, State Board of Regents Amendments, by Sen. Dennis Stowell, would require changes in the composition of the Board of Regents to provide greater rural representation. The governor’s office is working with Sen. Stowell on a compromise.
  • SB 55, Authorization of Charter Schools by Higher Education Institutions, by Sen. Stuart Adams, would allow college and university boards of trustees, at their option, to authorize charter public schools. The Senate passed Wednesday (Feb. 10), 28-1; now goes to House.
  • SB 69(S1)*, College of Eastern Utah Affiliation with USU, by Sen. David Hinkins, was unanimously approved on Thursday (Feb. 11) by the Senate Education Committee. Commissioner Sederburg and Presidents King and Albrecht spoke in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full Senate, with votes likely this coming week. This is the bill that implements the actions taken by the Board of Regents.
  • SB 95(S1)*, UESP Amendments, by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, makes technical and housekeeping amendments to statutes governing UESP. Passed Senate Jan. 29, 22-0, and House Feb. 10, 69-0. Now goes to the governor for his signature.
  • SB 132*, Higher Education Scholarship Amendments, by Sen. John Valentine, tightens eligibility for the New Century Scholarship program and makes technical changes to it and to the Regents’ Scholarship. The major changes to New Century are adding, effective next year, a requirement for a 3.5 High School GPA, and requiring that associate degrees be completed by the date of high school graduation. The bill is being held on the Senate floor for future consideration.
In addition to the bills listed above, “box-car” bills (filed with text not yet included) have been opened, SB 236, “UCAT Board of Trustee Amendments” by Sen. John Valentine and a House Bill (not numbered) by Rep. Don Ipson, “Board of Regents Amendments.” Until the text is included in each of these bills we will not know what either would do.
 
* USHE has taken an official position in support
 
To learn more about the Utah Legislature and specific bills, visit: http://le.state.ut.us/. For the governor’s Web site, visit: http://www.utah.gov/governor/index.html. To find your state senator and representative, visit: http://le.state.ut.us/GIS/findDistrict.jsp. You may also contact Michael Kennedy, vice president for Federal and State Relations, with any questions at michael.kennedy@usu.edu
 
Legislative updates are also available from the USHE site.
 
Writer/Contact: Michael J. Kennedy, vice president for Federal, State Relations, michael.kennedy@usu.edu


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