During the session we meet twice a week for lunch as a Majority Caucus. These are usually open meetings and interested parties, legislative staff, media, and the public can attend. As the session winds down we begin to meet every day for a Caucus Lunch. This is the scene from today as we were discussing the budget. The prioritization lists from each Appropriations Committee were discussed for both one-time and ongoing funding. The House has $2.5M for each of ongoing and one-time funding (for a total of $5.0M) that can be put back in for additional priorities that didn’t make this initial list. That money will go quickly as there are hundreds of millions on the priority list, including several bills of mine.
Last night we were in the chamber until almost 11:00 pm passing bills. We had a break for dinner for a couple of hours and then came back and heard 4 important land bills. These are basically state’s rights bills that assert Utah’s right to own and control our own land. Currently the federal government owns and controls 66% of the land of Utah. This means that Utah misses out on the tax revenue that would come from that land if it were held privately. The 11 western states have significantly higher percentages of their land held by the federal government than the states in the mid and eastern part of the U.S. This federal land grab violates the Enabling Act, an agreement we made with the federal government when Utah became a state. At any rate, in a nutshell, these bills are an assertion of Utah’s rights over those lands, stipulates the federal government will need to begin transferring parcels back to the state, describes penalties if that action is not taken, and other details. These are important bills because if we’re able to accomplish what these bills are intended to do, our tax revenue that could be utilized for public education for instance would be tremendous. Critics will say these are message bills and we have no chance of getting these lands back from the feds. Very possible, but nothing will ever happen if we don’t combine our state efforts with those of our federal delegation, Senators and Congressmen. Hopefully we will get this done.
At the end of our time on the floor, we had an announcement and the “board was wiped.” This means all the items on the Third Reading Calendar got taken off and put back into a hat where leadership takes into account the preferences of the legislative membership and their own prioritization and reorders the bills on the calendar. This only happens once a session and if your bills are not heard before the board is wiped you are in a really bad spot.