Day 36 — It’s all about the funding

I’m happy to report that HB 304, “Access to Voter Date of Birth Records,” passed off the House floor today.  Ron Mortensen, a constituent and friend, has worked with me for several years on this issue.  This session we ended up with a substitute bill that provides for an “opt-out” where voters can choose to make private their birthdate information on their voter registration data.  The House showed a tremendous amount of support with a 66-4 vote.  This is an important issue that is a good example of constituent-driven legislation.  Ron and others worked hard on their end to serve as citizen lobbyists for this bill while I was working on my end to forge a compromise with other stakeholders, including the Republican and Democratic parties.  I’m appreciative of the opportunity to work with these great people.

In honor of the bill, a Happy Birthday song from the Beatles:

We heard several bills in the Education Committee this morning dealing with the issue of Charter school funding.  HB 392, “Charter School Funding Revisions,” addresses the distribution of School District funds to Charters, and HB 398, “Allocation of School Trust Lands Funds,” prescribes the way SITLA funds are distributed to community councils in Charter schools.
The legislature has not had a significant study of the funding for public schools since 1992, including the WPU.  Since the inception of Charters in the state there has not been a study.  We are in need of a collaborative approach to this issue that will address fair funding for Charter students, who currently represent 8% of our total public school student population.  The percentage of property tax revenue that goes into Charters, district by district, is not something that is understood by most taxpayers.  HB 392 is an attempt to 1) provide notice of the distribution of funds for both public education and charters as a set within public education, and 2) fundamentally change the balance of Charter funding between the Minimum School Program of the State (currently 75%) and the School Districts (currently 25%).  The district money goes to the state and then comes back at out to the Charters, as an average across the property tax revenues, every student receiving about 20% of district funding only from specific levies.  The bill is an attempt to make that funding balance more reflective of the actual revenue collected per district.  Some districts are net winners with this change and some are net losers.  Overall, the discussion today in Committee was evidence that the complexity of the issue really warrants sending the bill to interim study, which is exactly what happened, with my support.  I am committed to finding a mechanism and formula that provides fair and equitable funding for every student in our state and feel this deserves our very best efforts and analysis.  A move to interim study will allow this issue to be studied in a thorough manner and I am in support of that.

The topic of “Federal Funding” in our Bagels and Briefings meeting this morning was so interesting.  The power point presentation can be found here:
In a nutshell, Utah is a net importer of federal dollars.  For every $1.00 we put in, we get back $1.50 from the federal government.  Where do we spend those dollars?  Primarily in Health and Human Services, then Education, Transportation and others.  Best estimates state that over a period of a few years, states can expect a 9% decrease in federal funding.  What does this mean in real dollars?  For Education, receiving $257M of federal dollars, that means a decrease in $24M, most of what would have to be backfilled because of Title I and Special Ed programs.  Other losses would be $34M of the $348 M coming from the feds for Transportation, $13M of $140M in the area of Health and Human Services, $4M loss from $43M in Agriculture.  The areas of Education, Energy, Environment, Health and Human Services, Housing, Justice, Labor will carry the brunt of the cuts.

So, what is Utah doing to prepare for this inevitability?  HB 138 of the 2011 General Session requires:  1) Agencies must report plans in the case of a 5-25% cut in federal funds, 2) Legislature must authorize each federal grant over $1M, and 3) the Executive Appropriations Committee must authorize federal grants during the interim.  There is a lot of other gloom and doom in the presentation linked above, but the key to remember is that the Utah legislature is in a better position than other states because of our responsible and effective budgeting process.

During our Republican Caucus at lunch we spent time going through every House bill with a fiscal note.  You had one minute to sell your bill, less if all you had to say was “this bill is dead.”  I had an opportunity to do both :)

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