After another action-packed legislative session, I offer this report of session highlights to my constituents in Tooele and Millard Counties and portions of Juab, Utah, and Beaver Counties. I am grateful to local county, city, and school officials, as well as other interested individuals, who took time to meet with me and contact me during the session to provide needed information and perspective for good decision-making. I also enjoyed meeting with several student groups and other guests who visited our beautiful Capitol to see the process firsthand.
• State budget and tax reform: Our state is fiscally well managed and in sound financial condition. We have a strong, balanced economy and essentially full employment. Our concern is to ensure that all our citizens, especially those in rural areas, share in this economic prosperity. We balanced our state budget at $16.7 billion, a moderate annual increase to account for population and student growth. We used surplus revenue to replenish our rainy-day funds, which were depleted during the last recession. We also reduced the personal and corporate income tax rates to provide relief to taxpayers and stimulate economic growth. Strong revenues also allowed for a modest pay increase for state employees, improvements for state parks, and funding for homeless shelters, suicide prevention programs, and early-reading programs.
• Education: Public education received over $500 million in new funding, a nearly 7-percent increase, to cover rapid enrollment growth, improve teacher retention and recruitment, and hire additional school counselors. We also provided additional funding for bus transportation in rural school districts. The Legislature also adopted a funding equalization plan that freezes the basic school property tax levy to redistribute revenue to school districts with lower property values. Also, voters will decide on a potential increase in the fuel tax that would free-up additional general funds for education. With these school-funding elements in place, the citizen initiative that would have raised income and sales taxes by $700 million will be dropped. All interested parties appear satisfied with this funding compromise.
• School safety: With more school shootings in the news, we are all aware of the need for increased school safety. We must ensure that, of all places, our schools provide a safe environment for our children and those who work with them. We formed a school safety task force to develop measures that we can implement as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Legislature will develop funding sources to assist local school districts in evaluating and meeting their unique school safety needs.
• Transportation: During the legislative session, I met with the UDOT Director and staff to ensure that they are aware of the transportation needs of Tooele County and take necessary action to meet those needs. The first stage of the Mid-Valley Highway is funded and now in the design phase, with construction to begin next year. This new construction, coupled with rebuilding the freeway ramps and adding lanes to Interstate 80 and state Route 36, will significantly reduce congestion and enhance safety. UDOT is also designing, and the Legislature is looking to fund, an extension of state Route 201 to SR-36. Meanwhile, we hope to expand use of mass transit. I thank UDOT and local officials and citizens who attended our public transportation meeting last month in Stansbury. In addition, the Legislature modified the governance of UDOT and UTA to increase multimodal planning and capital development for transportation projects.
• Economic development: The Legislature approved two large land-development projects in Salt Lake County, both associated with the prison re-location, which will have statewide impact. One is the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority to develop land vacated by the prison. The other is the Utah Inland Port Authority to develop a commerce and trade zone on land between the airport and the new prison site.
• Rural initiatives: Legislation of particular interest to rural counties includes an incentive for employers to expand into rural areas, including use of more telecommuting. Another provision authorizes the PSC to spread the costs of natural gas infrastructure expansion to the larger customer base. Wireless providers are also authorized to expand service in rural areas through agreed use of existing utility poles.
• Healthcare: The Legislature authorized expansion of Medicaid to individuals within the federal poverty level, conditioned on 90-percent federal funding, work effort by recipients, and fixed enrollment caps. In a separate provision, pharmacists may now disclose cost information to patients, permitting less expensive access to medications. In tightly contested votes, the Legislature also authorized medical use of cannabis.
• Other legislative actions: I sponsored legislation expanding protection of children from sexual abuse; clarifying the duty of the Attorney General to provide legal opinions to the Legislature; creating the right of the Legislature to intervene in legal actions contesting state law; facilitating disposition of county property; honoring the life of President Thomas S. Monson; and honoring the Topaz Museum and the Japanese-American internees during World War II. I also helped secure an appropriation for the Historic Wendover Airfield.
I opposed and helped defeat legislation that would have created a legislative oversight committee over all state and local government entities; required local governments to permit nighttime gravel-truck traffic; limited required publication of legal notices in local newspapers; and restricted state agencies from lobbying the Legislature.
To discuss these or other matters considered by the Legislature, feel free to contact me by email: email@example.com. Thank you for your continued support.
Rep. Nelson serves House District 68 and lives in Grantsville.