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Utah Legislative Session, Week 4


Monday, Feb. 22, 2010


Utah State Capitol Building
The fourth week of the 2010 Utah State Legislative Session finally brought to us the state consensus revenue numbers. Again, these numbers come from an array of economic experts who use complex models and empirical data to forecast likely tax revenues for the current fiscal year (FY2010, which ends on June 30, 2010) and for the next fiscal year (FY2011, July 2010 to June 2011). Based on the analysis, the Legislative Fiscal Analyst and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget have announced that the revenue estimates for FY2010 are accurate. This means that, after the 3 percent COLA reduction USU has already taken for FY2010, it is likely that we are through with cuts for the current fiscal year. Of course, these numbers can always be adjusted later and cuts can be made in special sessions or in the following legislative session. The consensus numbers for FY2011 show a projected 50 million shortfall from the governor’s December revenue estimates. Although still a shortfall, this is a sign that the economic decline may be close to “hitting bottom” and the Legislature may have some inclination to use some one-time “backfill” funds to help the economy through FY2011.
 
The final budget numbers for Utah State and higher education will now be determined in negotiations between Gov. Herbert and legislative leadership. It is unclear whether we will take any additional cuts for FY2011 or if the any of the rainy-day funds or other budget adjustments will go toward continuing any of the 8 percent backfill higher education received in FY2010 from the federal stimulus funds. Leadership compiled a “wish list” of all the demands on the rainy-day and other funds (including a full restoration of the FY2010 backfill for higher education) and projected an approximate continued 10 percent shortfall. This means that it is unlikely that we will receive a full FY2011 restoration of the one-time ARRA backfill. However, we are still pushing for the governor’s recommendation which would replace the current-year backfill with additional one-time money to prevent further cuts from the net cut this year. It is still possible, however unlikely, that there will be additional cuts to higher education beyond the 17 percent reduction already in our base budget.
 
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the co-chairs of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. John Valentine and Rep. Mel Brown, presented their subcommittee's report to the Executive Appropriations Committee. Both chairmen made a strong case for no further cuts to higher education and continued to argue for full funding. This argument was well received by Executive Appropriations, but no formal actions were taken. Other appropriations subcommittees presented similar reports to the committee.
 
USU continues to monitor S.B.69 (S1), the USU/CEU affiliation bill. This bill is on the Second Reading Calendar in the Senate and we expect Senate passage this week. There have been no further official actions taken by the Capital Facilities Appropriations Subcommittee regarding building bonds.
 
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(S1), 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 dollars or more from foreign persons. Rep. Wimmer introduced his substitute bill which is more workable for higher education institutions, and it passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 56-13. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Monday. 
  • 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. No action on this bill.
  • 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. Still being held in House Rules Committee, likely due to fiscal impact.
  • HB 410, Hazing Policies for Higher Education Institutions, by Rep. Carol Moss, has been introduced by short-title only. Text should be added this week.
  • HB 428, Nonresident Tuition Amendments, by Rep. Richard Greenwood, has been introduced by short title only without text. However, it is expected to be similar to bills introduced in previous years to repeal the law that allows Utah high school graduates who cannot prove legal immigration status to be eligible for resident tuition.
  • 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. Was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday morning, but the sponsor held it. It is not certain when or if this will be brought to the floor for debate and a vote.
  • 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.  Still being held in Senate Rules Committee.
  • 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, affecting 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 and 94 passed 2nd Reading in the Senate on Thursday and are waiting final Senate consideration. SB 63 passed the Senate on Friday and now goes to the House.
  • SB52(S1), 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 by having two Regents from counties that are not Metropolitan Statistic Areas according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Senate Education Committee approved 6-1 on Thursday and it now goes to full Senate.
  • 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. It has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House Education Committee Monday afternoon.
  • SB 69(S1)*, College of Eastern Utah Affiliation with USU, by Sen. David Hinkins, was unanimously approved a week ago by the Senate Education Committee, and is awaiting Senate votes, likely this week.
  • SB 95(S1)*, UESP Amendments, by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, makes technical and housekeeping amendments to statutes governing UESP. It has passed both houses unanimously and is awaiting governor’s 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 GPA. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.
  • SB 171, Higher Education Retirement Amendments, by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, would allow a window for current higher education employees to transfer to the Utah Retirement System.
 *USHE has taken an official position in support
 
To learn more about the 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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