Week Four of the Legislative Session Rolls On

The momentum and pace of the Utah State Legislative session is comparable to the experiences of standing on top of a mountain full of snow and rolling a snowball off the edge. The snowball slowly gains speed and grows bigger and bigger. As it rolls toward the bottom of the mountain it can build into a full fledged avalanche. 

We will be half way down the mountain this week for the 2020 Legislative session.

The fourth week of the Utah Legislative Session gets rolling

We are now in week four of a seven week session. 

While taking Monday off for President’s Day is a well-earned respite to legislators, for lobbyists it just means more work beginning on Tuesday. 

This week Appropriations Subcommittees list their priority funding items to Executive Appropriations. Getting items on the list is important. Being a high-priority, listed item is even better.

One of the challenges for a lobbyist is the number of bills and appropriations requests that move through the legislative process. 

Government relations lobbyists have chosen to work in this field, after all, because we are interested and passionate about public policy, the legislative process and the way in which the state serves its people. A passionate lobbyist observing and working during the legislative session can feel like a kid in a candy shop. There is a temptation to be involved in all issues of interest. 

Effective government relations lobbyists, of course, know better than to chase their own enthusiasms on Capitol Hill, instead, we laser-focus on those things our clients want us to focus on. We advocate for the goals our clients believe in and we both watch for, and create opportunities, to advance those goals.

Budget challenges loom for Utah lobbyists and legislators

Normally, week four of the Utah State Legislative session is also the week that consensus budget numbers are released and I expect this year to be no different. 

In many states, various budget estimates are released by the executive and legislative branches. In Utah, we long ago decided that there should be just one number and so economists huddle to do their best estimate of a budget that begins July 1st each year and ends June 30th, meaning they must make their budgetary projections roughly 16 1/2 months in advance. 

Those projections are critical because the final budget number tells the legislature how much money they have to appropriate or how a tax cut could be implemented. With the recent failure of tax reform efforts, the state’s 2020 budget is certainly a theme of this session. The budget will likely again boast significant revenue growth in the Education Fund, which comes from state income tax.  However, the General Fund, which is supported by sales tax, is facing only modest revenue growth. 

The Education Fund’s revenue growth sits at nearly $726 million and is constitutionally designated for Public and Higher Education. In stark contrast, the General Fund only has around $128 million in revenue growth, yet is responsible for funding existing and expanded economic development, environmental initiatives, state parks and monuments, Medicaid, criminal justice and transportation. 

Some estimates of budget requests to the Utah Legislature put the price tag at roughly $500 million in requests this year, compared to the estimated $40 million that will be available to spend from the general fund. 

The imbalance between the two funds means legislators and lobbyists must be creative when it comes to spending bills and tax incentives and credits. It’s another year with little wiggle room for new budget requests out of the General Fund, and leaders of the Legislature have made it pretty clear they want to wait until the 2021 session to tackle tax reform again.

So it goes, and so the session snowball rolls on.