Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Entering the Home Stretch

Well, it looks like it is almost over for the 2007 Utah Legislative Session and despite a tough set of circumstances, local government has done pretty well this year. So lets quickly recap what has happened and what still needs to get done before we end at midnight tonight.
  • Removal of Food from the Sales Tax Base for the Boutique Taxes. While the original bill, HB282 is yet to pass, the necessary offsets to ensure that local governments are in large part compensated for the reduction in the size of the sales tax base is moving quickly. We were successfully negotiated a 0.1% increase for all resort communities and a 0.05% increase for the municipal transportation tax and mass transit taxes that are imposed by many of our communities. In addition, it looks like a bill to increase the B&C allocation for local road projects will also pass today. That bill is sitting on the 3rd reading calendar of the Senate and should be heard early this morning. That bill will generate an additional $2.5 million for local road projects to also help offset any losses associated with the removal of food from the boutique sales tax base
  • Omnibus Land-Use Bill. Our omnibus land-use bill, SB-215 also passed this year. This was bill was a consensus based bill that was being heavily pushed by local government and the development community. This bill clearly signifies that when stakeholders come to the table during the interim, good legislation moves quickly through the legislative process.
  • Environmentally Sensitive Zoning. Thankfully for all local governments, the legislature saw the wisdom, albeit imposed by local government pressure, to not pursue a bill to limit local governments ability to regulate development of sensitive lands to include watersheds, flood plains, steep grades, etc. This bill will not move forward this year and will stay circled on the House reading calendar.
  • Retirement. While the legislature did not fund an increased COLA adjustment for state and local public safety officers, they also didn't impose the increased COLA adjustment on local government without funding the benefit enhancement. In years past the legislature has attempted to award the benefit without the requisite funding, fortunately the bill was introduced this year with a complete funding package, but due to the fiscal impact, the bill was not funded and will therefore not pass. Also on retirement, a significant push to remove the defined benefit pension program from state and local government employees was also stripped of most of its language and now only provides an employee option between defined benefit or defined contribution plans and that option only exists for IT employees of the state -- in essence, the bill went from a full on assault of the current retirement program to a much more delicate and thoughtful approach, an nice outcome for local government.
  • Telecommunications. The much opposed statewide franchise bill for telecommunications service has also looks to have failed this year. This bill would have stripped local governments of the local franchising authority for cable services. As you can imagine, we feverishly opposed the measure. The bill will likely stay in the House Rules Committee and thus fail to be considered by the House of Representatives. We will, however, be seeing more of this idea during the interim. Also on telecommunications, it looks like the local gross receipts tax will be slightly lowered this year from a 4% max rate to a 3.5 % max rate. This bill was not opposed by local governments, as we realized that unanticipated gains in the tax were not the intent when the tax was initially implemented a few years ago. This bill should put the end to the debate on the rate for taxation of telecom services.
  • Elections. It looks like our elections bill HB-347 will easily pass this morning. We have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming municipal elections, and this bill should help significantly. This one should be done by noon today.
  • Eminent Domain. Some gains, but still some anxiousness. It looks like we will successfully regain limited eminent domain authority for our redevelopment agencies, but HB-334 which further restricts our ability to use eminent domain for recreational trails and emergency access is still out there. We have significantly delayed the debate, but there is still some potential for this bill to pass. We will be watching the senate closely to see if it gets considered.

Well, that about covers our laundry list of issues. If you have others to add please don't hesitate to leave a comment. Also, please be watching for our session "wrap" , where we cover, in detail, all legislation that had the potential to affect local government. This publication will be available in early April.

Until next time....ENJOY