Thursday, January 29, 2009

Transparency in Gov. Finance and Taxation of Special Districts

Well today two of the more anticipated bills for local government were drafted and numbered.

First, we have SB18 First Substitute Transparency in Government Finance . While the first bill SB18 was out much earlier, the substitute, which addressed many of our concerns was made available for public dissemination.

Here are a few concerns that were expressed as well as the response outlined in SB18 First Substitute.

1. We raised an issue with the ability of small jurisdictions to comply with transparency requirements. In response, Sen. Niederhauser has provided a special exception for jurisdictions with a budget less than $10 Million dollars, which allows for special consideration of their financial capacity and technical capabilities.

2. We raised a concern regarding the timing of implementation. Sen. Niederhauser has subsequently delayed implementation of the legislation's effect until May 2011 for municipal governments.

3. We raised concerns regarding the volume and complexity of information that would be required by the proposed compliance. Sen. Niederhauser has responded by taking the rule making authority away from the State Department of Finance and giving it to the Transparency Advisory Board, of which we will be members as a result of this legislation.

4. We raised concerns regarding a requirement to submit information in a format similar to the state's website format. In response. Sen. Niederhauser has allowed for us to simply comply by linking our existing websites to the state website to allow for a unique format for each city.

5. We raised concerns regarding potential liability for disclosing protected records inadvertently. To address this concern, a liability waiver was included in the substitute.

As you can see, with every question and concern, Sen. Niederhauser has been extremely willing to work with us on the issue. While I believe that most of our membership still has some anxiousness about the unintended consequences, we cannot diminish Sen. Niederhauser's willingness to work with us to address our concerns.

While we are yet to hold a legislative policy meeting to formalize our position on the bill, the ULCT staff will be recommending that our membership support the bill as a healthy compromise that both addresses our major concerns while still accomplishing the objectives put forth by Sen. Niederhauser. We will be recommending that we all work closely with the Transparency Advisory Board and Sen. Niederhauser to work out the specifics.

The second bill that was brought forward today was SB135 Local District Taxing Authority, Senator Bramble. As drafted this bill would preclude a special district from levying a property tax unless the board met one of the following three criteria. (1) The Board of the district was made up of independently elected officials; (2) The participating local entities imposed the tax on the districts behalf; (3) Took the property tax levy to a vote of the people.

Because many cities and towns have raised concerns about the impact that this legislation may have on small water and sewer districts, we will be working to ensure that such districts are exempted from the legislation, as the bill is targeted toward much larger, complex districts. In discussions with Sen. Bramble, he is willing to address our concerns and has asked us to work with him on drafting amendments to the bill. Amendments are in the process of being drafted and should be available next week.

We are pleased with the level of cooperation that has been demonstrated by Sen. Bramble and feel confident that our concerns can and will be addressed.

Please look for further updates in future posts.

We hope this finds you well and until next time .... Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Local Officials Day on the Hill

Well, today was certainly eventful on Capitol Hill with nearly 800 local elected official and youth city council members in attendance, the ULCT ushered in the 2009 Local Officials' Day on Capitol Hill with a bang.

The day was filled with great speakers on topic ranging from press and media relations to a great lecture from Dr. Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Founding Brothers". We were excited for a great day on the Hill and want to thank everyone who participated with us.

On a legislative note, HB68 Development Exations also passed out of committee today unanimously. This bill was crafted with the work of the ULCT Land Use taskforce, and is another demonstration of who multiple interests can come together to accomplish their respective goals. This should provide the capstone to a multi-year effort to reform water policy in Utah for local governments, which included the powers established in HB51 of the 2008 session and culminates with this bill.

We don't anticipate any problems during the House floor debate when it occurs.

Until Next Time...Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

State of the State Delivered

With the State of the State behind Governor Huntsman, it appears that the legislature is back atop the main stage of this 45 day long event and will largely be directing the course of action for the next several weeks. While the Governor mentioned issues ranging from ethics reform to renewable energy resources to community service, the legislature in most circumstances has a very different approach than the Governor in almost every category.

The debate back and forth as been less than passive and exchanges have been far more pointed in recent commentary. Many members of the legislature have expressed deep concern regarding possible attempts to do away with party caucus and nominating processes, which were eluded to tonight during the State of the State as efforts to promote more participation in the election process. In addition, the course on ethics reform varies widely both among various legislators as well as the Governor. This will likely be a hot button topic for much of the session and was certainly a center piece to the State of the State.

In related news, the more subtle battle on transportation funding appears to be taking shape as some legislators have eluded to the outstanding bonding capacity that is available for transportation projects ($1.5 Billion) and have encouraged the executive to push for enhanced bonding. It also appears that the Governor is willing to take some projects off the "Hold" list and reengage UDOT on those projects. The question that must be asked is if that is response to the bonding "question" posed by some members of the legislature or is it rather an attempt to gear up for anticipated federal stimulus money.... your guess is as good as mine at this point.

On the revenue front, the gas tax is also getting a lot of dialogue among legislators. It appears that recent polls are in conflict as the recent Deseret News poll state that 70% oppose a tax, yet more detailed polls that identify certain projects that would be funded by a gas tax increase appear to sway polling preference and nearly 70% support a gas tax once they realize which projects would be funded. These conflicts in polling has many pausing to reevaluate where this issue should go. It is anticipated that this will be a negotiation point between that House and the Senate. We will let you know how this one is shaking out as it takes more shape.

On a parting note, not much occurred in committee today for local governments. As in years past, the first week is usually pretty quite. The League of Cities is now in the throws of preparation for tomorrow's Local Officials Day on Capitol Hill. We will let you know how it goes.

Hope to see you there. Enjoy!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

And we are off !!

With a blazing start, we are off to another fun packed legislative session. While we spent most of the day on pomp and circumstance, the work of the Legislature has been well underway for the past several weeks. It is anticipated that the Legislature will be ready to adopt a base budget on Wednesday that will then be submitted to the Governor for approval. Once established, the base budget becomes the building blocks from which the state will operate.

At this point most are merely speculating on whether the base will be a base upon which priorities will be added or if the base will be a place to begin a further examination of what needs to be cut. Either way the base budget is a significant starting point for the discussion.

In other news, issues affecting local government were quick to go to committee, and equally as quick to be pulled from committee agendas. Two township bills, a boundary adjustment bill and others were all scheduled to be in committee tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 27) but have subsequently been pulled. Both township bills were pulled to allow more time for the negotiations between the cities and Salt Lake County on unresolved annexation issues, and the boundary adjustment bill was pulled to allow for additional amendments that were requested by the ULCT to ensure that any potential unintended consequences associated with the change in effective dates of future annexations and incorporations were mitigated. We will report back on these two issues as they surface again.

On a final note, a few Revenue and Taxation bills will be in committee on Tuesday the 27th. One is to change the funding paradigm of public education by reducing property tax and imposing a sales tax in its place. In addition, Rep Froerer's bill on Truth-In-Taxation ads will be in committee as well.

Looks like the fun is just beginning.

Until next time enjoy!!!