Legistlature wrestles with budgets as session nears end; $37 million rural jobs bill still pending

 

Ralph Okerlund

Senator

District 24

3-9-2017

 

 

Week 6, the last full week of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books. Next Thursday at midnight will mark the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. At this point, we’re working to finalize the budget and complete the process of turning ideas into bills and turning those bills into law. Next week’s legislative schedule includes at least one more packed day of committee meetings, and three full days of up to 13 hours of debate on the Senate floor.

 

Setting and balancing Utah’s budget is a very deliberative process. Weeks of study and consideration by appropriations subcommittees have lead to the passing of final budget requests on to the Executive Appropriations Committee. One of the proposed changes that will be considered is a 4 percent increase in Education funding. The Executive Appropriations Committee, which is made up of Senate and House leadership, will set the final budget for the upcoming year.

 

Utah has a Constitutional requirement that we pass a balanced budget by midnight on the last day of session. That requirement, and our compliance with that mandate, has been the driving force behind the State’s high financial stability rankings for years.

 

While the Executive Appropriations Committee is focused on how to best distribute funding for projects, I am involved with a few bills that will provide rural Utah with financial increase through jobs and programs. My Rural Jobs Act bill, SB267, would generate $37 million of private investments to rural Utah small businesses within three years. This is largely by avenue of investors and capital remains invested for at least six years. Currently, the poverty in rural Utah is 14.4 percent, roughly 3-4 percent higher than urban areas, largely due to unemployment. By bringing more small businesses, which typically create two-thirds of all new jobs, into rural Utah through enticing post-performance tax credits, this bill will create a minimum of 600 new jobs. This bill has already passed out of the Senate, and is awaiting debate on the House floor.

 

Another bill awaiting debate in the House is my Oil and Gas Amendments, or SB191, which also focuses on revenue increase in rural Utah. This bill states that the Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining may make an order establishing a drilling unit or a pooling order retroactive under certain circumstances. This helps provide easier regulations for oil, gas, and mining companies, which will bring in job opportunities and income to our rural communities. The bill has passed the Senate Floor and is up for debate in the House.

 

Lastly, the bill I am especially excited to share is my Utah Outdoor Recreation Grant, or SB264. This bill creates the State Transient Room Tax Act, in which the state shall impose a tax on hotel rooms at a rate of .32 percent in order to pour $5 million into Utah’s outdoor recreation projects. 70 percent of outdoor recreation project funding benefits rural Utah counties; therefore, this bill predominately benefits our own communities and parks. Included potential projects benefited by this funding includes the Moab River Road Trail, the Provo River Restoration Project, Parley’s Trail East, Outdoor Retailer Tents, Sandy City Dry Creek Trail, and several fantastic youth outdoor groups. This bill has already passed out of the Senate, and is awaiting debate on the House Floor.

 

I have many other bills that I wish I could expound on for pages and pages. To save you the reading, I’ll stop my writing now. If you’d like to talk with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, at (385) 441-0600 or at swinter@le.utah.gov. If you would like to promote or discourage a bill currently in the Utah Legislature, email me at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.

 

As we approach the end of the session, I am grateful for the incredible sacrifices by our soldiers and leaders which allow us to debate society’s ideas in a civilized, free fashion. I am also touched by the constituents that have raised their voices in excitement or concern towards the legislature. Democracy is guarded by those who fight for our rights with either the gun or the pen. It is an honor to represent you – my colleagues, friends, and neighbors – in this legislative arena.