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Utah Legislative Session, Week 5


Monday, Mar. 01, 2010


Utah State Capitol Building
The fifth week of the 2010 Utah State Legislative Session brought some surprising budget news for higher education. It is important to remember that the following numbers are not the final decision and, with 11 days left in the 2010 session, there will be a lot of negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor to reach the final numbers. The following week will likely include the greatest part of these negotiations, and we will continue to work toward the proposed budget levels proposed by the governor.  
 
Last week, the House Republican Caucus released numbers that included the full 8 percent cut left over from the stimulus backfill in FY2010 for higher education with an additional 5 percent ongoing cut for FY2011 (equaling an approximate 22 percent cut from the FY2009 numbers). The proposed cuts were softened by a 20 million dollar, one-time backfill (between 2-3 percent). The House GOP Caucus approved these numbers almost unanimously, but it soon became clear that most did not understand the full ramifications of the numbers. Rather than an effective cut of 11 percent (8 percent ARRA backfill + 5 percent additional cut + 20 million backfill), most members thought higher education would only receive an approximate 2 percent cut beyond the 9 percent already taken from last year. The proposed numbers for public education consisted of an effective 0 percent cut with a $283 million backfill.
 
There are several proposals already surfacing that would augment the budget for higher education, including an increase in the cigarette tax. With an evident abundance of one-time money, some in leadership express concern about filling ongoing budget shortfalls with one-time money as it may lead to large “structural deficits” for future budgets. While it is important to guard against building in long-term budget deficiencies, we continue to advocate for one-time FY2011 backfill while anticipating a more robust economy in years to come.
 
S.B.69 (S1), the USU/CEU affiliation bill, passed the Second Reading Calendar unanimously in the Senate and has moved to the Third Reading Calendar. We anticipate that this bill will pass the Senate early this week and move to the House for final passage. There have been no further official actions taken by the Capital Facilities Appropriations Subcommittee regarding building bonds, but leadership is working hard at reaching a consensus on new buildings. 
 
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 or more from foreign persons. It passed a preliminary Senate vote on Thursday 22-2, but was held for a possible floor amendment. It will likely receive a final vote 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. Rep. Vickers is not pursuing this bill due to the large fiscal impact.
  • 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 370, Capital Project Amendments, by Rep. Stephen Clark, was developed in collaboration with higher education and the Division of Facilities Construction Management. However, due to concerns about several current provisions, the bill is being rewritten and will then have the support of both organizations. The new bill should be substituted during the coming week.
  • HB 425, Budgetary Procedures—Fee Amendments, by Rep. Ron Bigelow, made its appearance Thursday afternoon. As written, would require legislative approval of virtually all fees charged by higher education institutions now approved by the Board of Regents or Boards of Trustees. The sponsor has assured us he will amend the bill to remove the provision that made it apply to Higher Education.  
  • HB 410, Hazing Policies for Higher Education Institutions, by Rep. Carol Moss, has been introduced by short-title only. Text has not yet been added.
  • HB 428**, Nonresident Tuition Amendments, by Rep. Richard Greenwood, is 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. The Fiscal Analyst estimates this would cost institutions $1.5 million in tuition, which may make it difficult for this bill to move forward.
  • 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. Bill remained held all week, but there are rumors it may surface the coming week for a vote. As a constitutional amendment it needs a vote of 2/3 of the House and Senate and then goes to the voters (not the governor).
  • 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.  Being held in Senate Rules Committee and may be included in another bill.
  • SB 42, 43(S1) & 94(S2) 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 have passed both houses (and now go to governor). SB 42 is being held on the Senate floor for now.
  • 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. Is awaiting a vote by the Senate, likely early this coming week. 
  • 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. House amended to include UCAT Campuses. It passed the House on Wednesday 43-27, and now goes to governor for signature.
  • 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 bill received its final Senate vote on Monday and passed unanimously (27-0) and now goes to the House. 
  • 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. Still awaiting Committee consideration.
 
* USHE has taken an official position in support; ** USHE has taken an official position in opposition.
 
To learn more about the Legislature and specific bills, visit its Web site. Information is also posted on the governor’s Web site. Lists of state senators and representatives, but district, can be found online. 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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