Friday, November 05, 2010

October 2010 Legislative Update

Immigration:
Most parties acknowledge that America’s immigration system is broken, and communities through out Utah and the country are suffering the consequences. Those consequences include divisive dialogue on how to solve this problem, cultural mistrust, community isolation, criminal activity, and economic inequality that continues to foster a divide in our communities.

In light of the many concerns regarding the current state of the issue, several Utah legislators, on both sides of the issue, are working to address the problems that they perceive, and many of the legislative efforts are focused on enforcement-based solutions. With an understanding that any enforcement-based solution will require local governments to act as the enforcement entity, the ULCT has begun to compile data from the state’s various police departments on the anticipated costs and resources that will be required to carry out any potential law change.

While the ULCT Policy Committee has not yet weighed in on the social and policy issues surrounding immigration reform efforts, we have been working diligently with legislative leaders, the state fiscal analysts, and most city police departments to gather pertinent fiscal information that will be necessary to fully understand the fiscal impact of immigration reform.

We anticipate that once formal proposals have been formulated, the ULCT Policy Committee will also begin to focus on any policy issues that may cause concern. We are in the process of compiling the fiscal information we have received and will be sending out the numbers and analysis in the next few weeks which will hopefully provide more insights into the costs and resources required of local government for this effort. If you have questions about the various proposals that are being contemplated please let me know.

Budget:
As is likely the case in your community, the tough budget continues to drive much of the dialogue on Capitol Hill. While in June, the state fiscal analysts were telling legislators to anticipate the year-end deficit (ending in June) to be as high as $150 million, with tax collections complete and the report from the State Division of Finance released, there was some “good news” issued in late September. I say “good” in the sense that it is better than the anticipated $150 Million potential deficit.

Instead of the anticipated $150 Million shortfall, actual revenue to actual expenditures left the state with a $28 Million deficit. That was created by tax receipts being $48 Million less than anticipated, but state agencies spent $20 Million less than authorized, leaving a net $28 Million deficit. That $48 Million short fall in receipts is held both in the education fund and the general fund, with $4 Million assigned to the general fund and the remaining $44 Million attributed to income tax shortfalls that are dedicated to the education fund.

So, what does it all mean? Well fortunately during the 2010 session the State anticipated and provided resources to address these small deficiencies to avoid a mid-year crisis. So there is no “dooms-day” to speak of. In addition, the state is much better off than they anticipated back in June, so I guess that can be construed as “better” news … maybe not “good news”, but certainly “better news than anticipated”. Inevitably, however, the state will still be looking to grapple with a daunting budget during the 2011 session, making appropriations requests and general program funding a difficult task for all involved.


Land Use:
The Land Use Task Force and its subcommittees have been working diligently this summer to identify and negotiate beneficial land use bills for the 2011. The most comprehensive effort has been directed toward an Impact Fees Act re-codification, which we are proud to report reorganizes an otherwise difficult act, clarifies agreed intent and actually adds flexibility for those local governments who, because of the slow economy, have either decided to support affordable housing projects by waiving impact fees for the project, or have decided to repeal or suspend their collection of impact fees for the near term.

This year, the Land Use Task Force also concentrated on revisions to the Local District statute to bring local districts under the same impact fees, reasonable diligence, rip cord and exactions mandates that govern cities, towns and counties.

A third Land Use Task Force bill will add accounting parameters to the imposition and collection of Development Fees. The notion is that Development Fees should be similar to business license fees in that they should be imposed only for the actual cost of delivering the service. However, the bill does not restrict the types of development services for which fees are collected. Nor does it require a fee study prior to the imposition of development fees.

The Billboards subcommittee of the Land Use Task Force negotiated to a d├ętente with the Billboards industry during the interim and other than a beneficial bill to strengthen UDOT enforcement of billboard regulation along the state highways, we expect no billboards legislation this year.

Finally, the Water Law subcommittee of the Land Use Task Force has negotiated a one year hiatus from change application legislation as it continues to develop a consensus based approach to reforming what some have characterized as a “secret decoder ring” process to change water from agriculture to urban uses in the State Engineer’s Office.

The Land Use Task Force has been as successful in channeling dialogue about certain land use issues as it has been in developing consensus-based legislation. We have received commitments that proposed legislation to restrict aesthetic or historic district legislation will not be pursued this year. Similarly, threatened Transfer Fee legislation should not surface in 2011.

As in the past, we believe we will receive united opposition from each of our members (developer and government alike) to any proposed land use legislation that has not been vetted through the Land Use Task Force.

Taxation:
Although the budget situation continues to focus on revenue shortfalls there appears to be little likelihood of tax increases. Several “one-time” tax adjustments mentioned during the last session (quarterly estimated payments and modification or elimination of the vendor sales tax discount) remain part of the discussion. The ongoing funding for transportation may at some point involve a gas tax increase. The critical issue for cities is to ensure that any change is part of the existing distribution formula. Lastly, there is an ongoing examination of public education capital equalization options. All general agreement as to the need there is wide divergence as to the funding method.

General Government:
Because the legislative elections have been consuming most legislator’s time during the summer and fall, very little is being discussed regarding general municipal government issues. As usual, there will be several pieces of legislation with a municipal impact, but there are not major issues being contemplated by legislators that we are aware of. ULCT staff has, however, been working with stakeholders of a few proactive municipal changes. Most of these changes affect just a handful of communities, but a quick run-down of the items may be helpful. If you have any questions on any of these items don’t hesitate to drop us a line and we will be happy to provide more detail.

1. Alcohol Reform: Working on legislation to create more full service restaurant liquor licenses in exchange for a reduction in unused tavern licenses
2. Redefining a qualified “food bank” to include municipal operated “food banks” – this allows for state assistance with operations of municipal food banks.
3. Allowing for council reappointments during military deployment of a councilmember.
4. RDA Changes – Address urban core redevelopment and TEC approval process for such activities.
5. Legal Non-Conforming Use of rental dwellings and building code upgrade requirements that can be imposed.
6. Change in form of government process clarifications.

Recap and Overview:
As you can see, preparations are well underway for the 2011 session with plenty of items to consider. We anticipate that the pace will increase significantly after the November elections, with a mad-dash to the start date to the session. We will keep you apprised of the pertinent municipal issues as they become available.

Until Next Time....Enjoy!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pension Reform Taking Center Stage Nationally

It looks like several states are contemplating major changes in public pension reform. Even the staunches allies of public employees are realizing that the "run-up" in benefits is now the largest threat to the current pension system. Reform efforts are being discussed by many state legislatures. I wonder how many will follow Utah's lead.

Here is a great article from the NY Times on the topic:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/business/28union.html

Enjoy,
Your Legislative Team

Monday, June 07, 2010

E-Verify Compliance (SB81-2008)


Many of you may be in receipt of a letter from the Attorney General's office regarding the implementation of SB81 from the 2008 session. This bill requires the verification of immigration status when city, town, county or special district issues an RFP for a contract.

The law stipulates that beginning July 1, 2009, a public employer may not enter into a contract for the physical performance of services within the state with a contractor unless the contractor registers and participates in the Status Verification System to verify the work eligibility status of the contractor's new employees. The bill only applies to RFP's and does not affect "sole source" work. In addition, the law DOES NOT apply to volunteer work. It should also be noted that the law DOES NOT require you to verify immigration status; but rather the bill requires the contractor who is responding to the RFP to certify that they are verifying the immigration status of their employees. Hopefully this nuance should make municipal compliance far easier.

The AG's office will be issuing a follow-up letter with additional implementation details to assist you in your compliance efforts. In addition our general counsel, David Church, is drafting a policy outline that can be utilized and should satisfy the requirements outlined in the law. As soon as it is complete, we will be sending out the information via email and will also make it available on our website.

We do anticipate the immigration discussion to continue during the 2011 legislative session, so please anticipate more changes to come. We will post regular updates and information in an effort to keep you apprised of the status of this issue.

Until Next Time...Enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Half Way There

So, we are officially half way through the 2010 session and we are faring very well. Here is a quick recap of several major items.

  • Billboards: All "anti-regulation" legislation affecting billboards has been successfully shelved for 2010. We intend to work on these issues extensively through out the summer.
  • Eminent Domain: There has only been one major eminent domain bill that is making progress this year. All other bills have been successfully sidelined. The one bill, SB81 has been amended substantially. What originally started as a bill that would allow for prevailing party attorneys fees in condemnation cases has now morphed into a bill that facilitates condemnation settlement by allowing both parties to submit preferred offers and only if the courts determine that a settlement is outside of the range of both offers is there liability for attorney's fees. In those circumstances, fees are capped at $50K.
  • Anti-Trust: Our proactive bill to clarify the municipal exemption from anti-trust litigation is moving well. Is is scheduled to come out of committee and go before the Senate this week. No major road blocks are foreseen.
  • Retirement: The two major retirement bills, SB43 and SB63, have both passed out of committee favorably. The first, SB43, restricts "double-dipping", whereas the second makes major cost-saving changes to the current retirement system by changing the benefit structure for new employees hired after July 2011. Both are now before the Senate and we anticipate passage of both.
  • Land-Use/Impact Fees: We have fared very well this year on this front, successfully amending or stopping bills that would hamper our cities ability to regulate land use or utilize impact fees
  • Water: It has been a fairly quiet year for water bills this year. Our only major bill, which allows for a municipal/domestic preference in water rights during times of shortage is scheduled for committee this week and should go well. It was slow out of the gate so we will be sure to keep a close eye on this bill and keep you apprised of any changes.
So, what to expect for this week. It is a huge week this week, as budget numbers come out on Wednesday and will largely shape the remainder of the session. As soon as they are out we will let you know what they look like.

Please contact the ULCT with any questions you may have on local government issues (www.ulct.org)

Enjoy,
Your ULCT Lobby Team

Friday, February 05, 2010

2 Weeks Down and Major Progress Made

So we are two weeks in to the 2010 legislative session in Utah and things are going well for municipal government. Here is a quick recap of some of the major events for week 2.

  1. We have come to terms on HB102 Impact Fee Amendments. With a substantial substitution the bill is a major improvement on the original. We have maintained the integrity of impact fees for school facilities and have simply provided for a mechanism for appropriate credits toward impact fees for improvements made by school districts. -- MAJOR WIN FOR US
  2. We have a settlement on all four pieces of billboard legislation. All of the legislation was aimed at limiting a cities ability to regulate billboards. We successfully negotiated to stop all legislation regarding billboards in the 2010 session and force them to interim study during the 2011 interim period
  3. Housing Regulation -- Several of our cities had concerns with a state preemption on housing regulation and interactions between landlords and renters. We have successfully amended the bill to create a baseline standard for "Fit Premises" and have still allowed for local autonomy to create additional local ordinances governing fit premise.
  4. Eminent Domain -- We are still negotiating on major eminent domain legislation that would award prevailing parties attorneys fees to litigants in certain circumstances. Hopefully we will have this issue resolved this week.

So, as you can tell from the quick and dirty breakdown, we had a great week. Thanks for all of the support of our member cities.

For more information please feel free to call.

Thanks,

Your ULCT Lobby Team

Utah League of Cities and Towns

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great Local Officials' Day Event of Capitol Hill

We had a great Local Officials' Day event on Capitol Hill today; providing an opportunity for local elected and appointed officials to interface with Utah State Lawmakers and also creating a great luncheon environment with former Mayor Rudi Giuliani. We hope all who participated enjoyed the event.

On a business note, we will be posting blog updates as frequently as possible on the progress of the session and will be sure to recap each week at a minimum. If you have any questions on issues facing local governments on Utah's Capitol Hill, please call the ULCT office to be routed to my cell phone, which serves as operation central during the legislative session.

Thanks for watching our blog and look for updates on a frequent basis.

Enjoy!
Lincoln Shurtz

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Week To Go until the '10 Session

We are now one week out from the 2010 legislative session and the preparations for the session are well underway.

Please make sure you check this blog regularly for municipal updates on the session. While we will inevitably be watching several bills this session we try and keep our updates focused on the 10 or so major policy issues that will be dominating the agenda for the cities, towns, counties and the legislature.

This year we have already been spending an immense amount of time on the following issues:

  1. State Budget: Because of the difficult financial and economic circumstances that we all face, the budget will be a major driving force for all decisions at the legislature this year. We plan to provide up to the date feedback on budget negotiations, legislative initiatives related to the budget and any municipal impacts associated with the budget balancing effort
  2. Retirement Reform: While this has dominated most of our summer, it is only going to get more intense and the session begins. We will keep you up to speed on the 4 reform bills that will be making there way through the legislature
  3. Anti-Trust: There is a growing concern about the lack of clarity in the current exemption that is afforded to cities and towns in anti-trust litigation. We will be proactively addressing this issue to help clarify the current exemption, and will be sure to provide frequent updates on our progress
  4. Water: There are several water bills this year ranging from domestic provider preference in water rights to tax treatment of public and private water companies. Because cities and towns are one of the largest owners of water in the state we always spend a lot of time on these issues. Watch for the updates as they come in.
  5. Land-Use: We anticipate a fairly slow year on land use issues, but the perennial billboard issues and impact fee issues will likely pop-up, and as they do we will be there to report on their progress or lack thereof.

In addition to the blog, please check our website (www.ulct.org) where we will also post our updated status sheet of all legislation that we are tracking. Hopefully between these two resources (Blog and status sheet) we can keep you apprised of the occurrences of the next 45 days.

Enjoy!