State representatives from Sandy area share 2019 goalsJan 29, 2019 11:04AM ● By Justin Adams
Newly elected state senator Kirk Cullimore addresses Sandy residents during a “legislative breakfast.” (Justin Adams/ City Journals)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
A total of eight Utah house representatives and senators joined a handful of Sandy City residents on the morning of Jan. 5 to discuss their legislative goals and priorities for the upcoming session. It was the first such “legislative breakfast” Sandy city has held, according to Deputy Mayor Evelyn Everton.
Newly elected Senator for District 9 Kirk Cullimore neatly summarized what dominates most of the legislature’s discussion. “What I’m learning about as a new legislator is that there are a lot of issues you talk about on the campaign trail, lots of things that people are concerned about. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s really all about money.”
At the end of fiscal year 2018, the Utah legislature reported a surplus of $265 million. “The last time we had that kind of surplus in the state of Utah was right before the economic downturn,” said Sen. Dan McCay, who represents Senate District 11. Because of this, McCay said the legislature will most likely seek to spend the money on one-time purchases rather than committing it toward ongoing costs, like a permanent teacher raise.
Examples of one-time purchases include improvements to infrastructure or improvements to school security, as suggested by District 8 Senator Kathleen Riebe.
The legislature might also take a look at tax policy, said Rep. Robert Spendlove, who represents District 49. As he explained, most of the Utah state government’s functions are funded by sales tax. (Property tax primarily goes to municipal government and income tax exclusively goes toward education.) The problem, according to Spendlove, is that sales tax revenue is not growing much in Utah.
“Our income from sales tax isn’t going down but the growth is diminishing every year. The reason that’s happening is the nature of our economy is changing,” he said. As the economy shifts from goods to services, which aren’t all taxed, the sales tax revenue decreases. One possible solution Spendlove suggested was to start applying sales tax to services as well, while also lowering the sales tax rate. Or, the state could leave things as they are as a way to limit the size of the state government.
Following up on ballot initiatives
Many of the Sandy residents in attendance had questions and concerns about how the legislature is implementing the policies which voters approved by referendum in the past election, such as legalization of medical marijuana and the expansion of Medicaid.
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore sought feedback from the audience on how the Medicaid expansion should be funded in the years to come. According to him, the tax increase laid out in the referendum won’t be enough to cover the projected cost of expanding Medicaid after the first few years.
“Do we raise taxes (more)? Do we cap (enrollment)? Do we cut services elsewhere?” he asked the audience.
As for medical marijuana legalization, Spendlove noted that Utah is hardly the first state legislature to modify such a referendum. In fact, he said “in every single state that has passed medicinal or recreational marijuana initiatives, the legislature has had to go in and make adjustments.”
“Someone said we ‘gutted’ medical marijuana. We didn’t. It will still be available,” echoed Representative Steve Eliason.
Two of the legislators in attendance said they are working on bills related to domestic violence.
Spendlove’s bill would require individuals who are placed under a restraining order to have a GPS device attached to their vehicle. The device could alert both the courts and the person being protected if the restraining order is breached.
Such a law, he said, could have helped to prevent the murder of Memorez Rackley, a young Sandy mother who in 2017 was killed by a former romantic partner as she was walking her son home from school.
“That was something that hit really close to home for me,” said Spendlove, who noted that he lives very close to where the murder took place.
Meanwhile, Rep. Andrew Stoddard of House District 44 is using his professional experience as a Murray city prosecutor to write a bill that would both expand the definition of domestic violence and make it easier to hold perpetrators responsible.