From Rep. John R. Westwood
The session of the Utah Legislature has come to a close. The state’s part-time lawmakers work tirelessly throughout the 45-day session to ensure our state and communities continue to thrive. Here are some highlights:
The Utah Department of Health is required to submit a waiver request to expand Medicaid in Utah. HB 472, Medicaid Expansion Revisions, has an enrollment cap, which limits the state’s liability while offering coverage to those under 100 percent of the federal poverty level, who make too little to qualify for the ACA exchange, and without access to employer-based health insurance.
HB 472 has the potential to expand Medicaid coverage to about 60,000 Utahns with no new state funds. Rather, it shifts state money from already existing programs to this one with a greater, 90 percent federal match rate. This legislation includes a work requirement component, as well as a safeguard to automatically sunset the program if federal funding drops below the 90 percent match.
This Medicaid expansion would provide care through a managed-care model and focuses on the health of the patient rather than the number of services provided, seeking to reduce costs and increase quality of care.
Utah’s population is expected to double within the next 50 years and we will need to continue to plan and prepare for this future growth. SB 136, Transportation Governance Amendments, restructures the governance of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), enhances the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), creates a new fund for transportation and transit and modifies some of the funding sources.
UTA governance changes include the creation of a full-time three-member board of trustees tasked with overseeing the agency and a nine-member advisory board.
As more people have switched from traditional vehicles to electric and hybrid, the gas tax has lagged behind. SB 136 implements a three-year phase-in of fees for these vehicles so they can start to pay their fair share for use of the roads. It also authorizes an additional local sales tax option for public transit after July 1, 2019.
Finally, with the substantial structural changes made to UTA, the time is right to start the process of rebranding and renaming. The new name will be Transit District of Utah. No additional resources were allocated to rebrand, as it will happen over time as resources permit.
During the 2018 session, SB 234, Utah Inland Port Authority, was passed to begin the process of developing an inland port in the Northwest Quadrant (NWQ) of Salt Lake County.
The development of a port presents the state with a significant generational opportunity. This is not a new idea; a port has been contemplated since at least the 1970s when legislation was passed granting “authority of state or political subdivisions to establish port authority.” A number of attempts have been made to move forward over the years, and have led to what is currently a broadly accepted vision and understanding of the area’s potential.
In August 2016, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released a report finding that Utah meets the criteria for a successful inland port. Later that year, Governor Herbert announced that the state would be participating in an exploratory team to evaluate the potential development of an inland port. The Legislature has been discussing legislation on this issue since at least 2015 and funded a Word Trade Center Utah study just last year to once again evaluate its viability.
Utah’s capital city stands as a major crossroads of the west, situated in the middle of many major western population centers, with direct rail connections to all major west coast terminals, access to all major interstates and an international airport that moves over three million pounds of cargo each year.
The infrastructure needs of this project will be tremendous and will require resources of the city, county and state, all working together to create the largest economic development project in the state’s history. The decision to locate the new Utah State Prison near the Northwest Quadrant allows for significant shared infrastructure and helps to mitigate many of those costs.
The impact of this international port will be felt throughout the entire western United States, and its operations go far beyond the functions of a city. West Valley City, Magna and unincorporated Salt Lake County all have land within the current port authority area, along with Salt Lake City. The leaders in most of these areas are pleased to partner with the state and work together to improve the Northwest Quadrant and provide a robust business hub with new economic activity and jobs for their residents.
The land use authority will remain with the local jurisdiction and the taxing increment will go to the Port Authority for projects and infrastructure enhancing the mission of the Authority, and for operational expenses.
Gas Tax Question
HB 491 authorizes a non-binding question to go on the ballot and HJR 20 directs that voters be asked if the state should increase the gas tax by the equivalent of 10 cents per gallon, indexed for inflation.
Implementing a 10-cent per gallon tax would generate approximately $170 million in new revenue for the Transportation Fund in the first year. Thirty percent would be dedicated to local roads and the remaining 70 percent would be used to offset an equivalent cut in funding for transportation, that would then go toward education. Of these new education funds, 80 percent would be intended for K-12 and 20 percent for higher education. This would result in a near $100 million new K-12 public education revenue stream in year one.
The impact of this tax on the typical family of four, making $60,000 and driving 12,000 miles per year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon would be an additional $48 a year.
State dollars dedicated to education continue to grow at historic levels. Since 2015, over $1 billion in new money has been added to K-12 public education funding. This year, schools will see an increase in funding of $292 million. Here are a few highlights from the 2018 session:
- $10 million was added to the digital teaching and learning grant program to support school technology plans.
- The Legislature strengthened and expanded an existing school readiness program for at-risk children that provides high-quality preschool programs.
- $4.7 million was appropriated for initiatives to help students succeed, including mental health, college preparation, targeted financial aid and mentoring for at-risk students.
- $1.7 million was dedicated for early intervention reading analytical software for schools to be able to identify struggling students early.
- A salary supplement for special education teachers, up to $4,100 was implemented. The legislature previously added a salary supplement to math and science teachers with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate specifically in the field. HB 233, Teacher Salary Supplement Revisions, includes special education teachers in this category as well.
The budget is a vital aspect of every legislative session. Lawmakers balanced Utah’s nearly $17 billion budget, as they do every year. Of more than $800 million in new revenue, 57 percent went to public and higher education. An $85 million repayment was made to the state’s rainy day fund and individual and corporate income tax rates were reduced from 5 percent to 4.95 percent. View a summary of the entire state budget here.
Mental Illness and Suicide Prevention
The Legislature passed a number of bills addressing suicide prevention and mental health services. Among those is H.B. 41, Mental Health Crisis Line Amendments, which creates a 24/7 state-wide crisis line to address mental and behavioral health emergencies and ensure that crisis calls never go unanswered. And H.B. 42, Medicaid Waiver for Mental Health Crisis Services, which seeks a Medicaid waiver for certain mental health crisis resources, including intervention by a mobile crisis outreach team.
Air quality is an important issue in our state, especially along the Wasatch Front. Since 2014, the Utah Legislature has successfully passed more than 40 air quality bills, more than the previous 100 years combined. We continue to make more progress on this issue every year and 2018 is no exception. Including:
- SB 141, Electric Energy Amendments, extends the $1,600 renewable energy systems tax credit for rooftop solar through 2020.
- HB 261, Renewable Energy Amendments, authorizes a power company to request the IRS allow them to take the full tax credit for a solar farm at one time instead of spreading it over 20 years. This makes it affordable for a power company to build solar farms and offer renewable energy options to commercial customers. This bill also exempts anything smaller than a 2-megawatt system, to ensure small commercial rooftop solar providers can still compete in the marketplace.
- HB 101, Air Quality Emissions Testing Amendments, creates a three-year pilot program to test diesel vehicle emissions in nonattainment counties that currently test gasoline emissions but are not testing diesel vehicles.
- HB 331, Air Pollution Mitigation Education Program, creates a program for providing educational materials to students in driver education classes on ways drivers can help improve air quality and the harmful effects of vehicle emissions.
HB 241, Post-employment Restrictions Amendments, bans non-competes for broadcast media employees who earn less than $47,500 per year. Those earning more could enter non-compete agreements for up to one year, but if an employee is fired without cause or does not renew their contract, the non-compete cannot be enforced. Contracts are also limited to four years in length.
Operation Rio Grande
An extensive collaborative effort to combat lawlessness in the Rio Grande area and lend a helping hand to those in need was launched in August 2017. Since then it has been shown to have substantially improved the area, both for those seeking services and those who live and work there. Lives have been changed as more resources have been made available for those wanting help and as authorities have appropriately dealt with the drug dealers and cartels who were there to take advantage of the vulnerable. During the session, more than $10.5 million was allocated to continue the work in the area through Operation Rio Grande.
HB 369, Auto Dealership License Amendments, permits manufacturers to sell directly to consumers. It allows companies like Tesla to be able to sell cars in Utah directly, without a dealership.
The Utah House of Representatives offers access to live and previous coverage of House Floor proceedings and committee hearings from the legislative website. You search the archive of past sessions, track bills, read proposed legislation and more at le.utah.gov.