Legislators hope Snow comes
out on top in funding quest
Okerlund says Sanpete is next in line to see lots of growth
By Linda Petersen
Feb. 15, 2018
SALT LAKE CITY—As the Utah Legislature reaches the midpoint of the 2018 session, Sanpete County’s elected representatives are working on some bills that are expected to have significant local impact.
Both Sen. Ralph Okerlund and Rep. Derrin Owens are also working to get funding for Snow College.
“It’s been a tough year for higher education with all of the focus on K to12,” said Owens, who is the vice chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee. “If one school comes out on top, this year it will be Snow and to a lesser degree Southern Utah University. We’re battling for rural here; we’re hoping Snow comes out a big winner.”
“Snow College has done such a great job,” Okerlund said. “It’s probably the best junior college left in the western U.S., if not in the country.”
If the appropriation is approved, it would mean more funding for salaries for Snow personnel to bring their salaries to the national median and more funding for building needs and services. Both legislators said so far it looks encouraging.
“It’s a good year to do this. We have a little bit of extra revenue,” said Okerlund, who is a member of the Executive Appropriations Committee.
Under a bill Owens is sponsoring, companies that invest a minimum of $50 million in an existing industrial, mining, manufacturing or agricultural entity in a third-, fourth- or fifth-class county (originally fourth, fifth or sixth) for which infrastructure construction is at least 10 percent would be eligible for an infrastructure development tax credit.
Owens said the bill was sabotaged last year by urban legislators who wanted to keep some of the money along the Wasatch Front, and it was passed as the High Cost Infrastructure Development Tax Credit bill.
His bill this year seeks to limit the tax credit to businesses that locate in third-, fourth- and fifth-class counties. (An initial effort to limit it to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-class counties did not have enough support so Owens modified his bill.)
Owens said he knows of a company that left the state three years ago that would have invested $100 million in infrastructure if such a tax credit had been available. The company, which could bring 300 to 400 rural jobs, is watching his bill right now, he said.
“Industry hasn’t grown in rural Utah counties like it has along the Wasatch Front. We’re trying to level the playing field,” he said.
Owens said he has been meeting with the governor’s office about the bill, which has “raised a lot of eyebrows,” he said. “It has opened some eyes to the fact that we might be able to accomplish this.”
Owens said his objective to have this tax credit available in rural counties might be made possible by a simple rules change, but he is not willing to abandon his bill until that has been determined for certain.
A piece of legislation sponsored by Okerlund that was passed last year provides a state nonrefundable tax credit for investments in eligible small businesses primarily located in rural counties and authorizes the state to approve up to $24,360,000 in tax credits if $42,000,000 is invested in certain small businesses in the state.
Okerlund, who has had to limit the bills he sponsors because he is the senate majority leader and a member of the Executive Appropriations Committee, said he is watching some bills that could have an impact in Sanpete County.
“Mostly, we’re trying to get rid of regulations,” he said. “We just met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and he stressed how important it is that we deregulate so that businesses that have left the U.S. because of over-regulation can come back here.”
“The case he presented was very dramatic,” Okerlund said. “He told us the president has instructed them that for every regulation they create, they need to get rid of 20. We’re trying to do the same thing.”
“Sanpete County is on the verge of becoming really important in the state as we see the Wasatch Front fill up,” he said. “People are getting tired of trying to fight the traffic and the bad air. We’ve seen that with Juab. Sanpete is the next in line. We’re going to see lots of growth in the next few years.”
Owens is co-sponsoring a bill that could impact failing schools or school districts. Legislation approved last year mandated that failing schools and school districts hire a consultant or “turnaround expert” to come in and address the problem.
Owens, who recently retired as a school counselor, said often these so-called experts know absolutely nothing about education, yet school districts have been forced to spend many thousands of dollars to comply. He cited a Wednesday, Feb. 7, KSL story on a Big Water School in Kane County, a 47-student school, that was forced to pay $887,000 to bring in a turnaround expert.
Owens’ legislation would allow the turnaround expert to be a school-district employee or for the school district to instead put together its own turnaround committee of qualified individuals. He said it may face an uphill battle since the original legislation was sponsored by Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, but he hopes that at least it will send a message.
The two legislators are also co-sponsoring a bill to bring a Children’s Justice Center to Juab and Millard counties.
“It’s time to bring a Children’s Justice Center to Nephi,” Owens said.