Saturday, September 20, 2008

Update on budget-cutting special session--USOE being cut too

I just read an update this morning on the budget session. (I was disappointed that I was too busy to listen to the legislature's apologetic show this morning. I still have something to post about from last week though.)

The Utah State Office of Education is also part of the 2-5% cuts necessary because of declining state revenues. I think this is just and fair. I agree with Senator Valentine that the USOE is less important than the classroom elements and agree with State Board of Education President Richard Sadler and board member Richard Moss that the cuts are prudent and not a retaliation measure. I appreciate that the legislature is trying to preserve classroom elements from the cuts this year and agree that classroom money will likely have to be part of the reductions next year.

I also repeat my hope that the legislature will include their own salaries, benefits, and staff as part of the statewide cost cuts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The estimated $200 million budget shortfall and legislative special session--holding education harmless this year

It was announced that Utah's revenues will be as much as 200 million dollars less than the previously projected budget. The state is suffering from the difficult economic conditions just like everywhere else. Governor Huntsman will call a special legislative session to deal with the shortfall. The governor wants all state agencies--except public education--to immediately cut their budgets by 2% and to be prepared for up to 5%. Rep. Dave Clark says that public education is safe until at least next year.

I obviously value public education and its importance to society highly. However, there are critical transportation needs among with many other important priorities to be balanced. For the record, I support reducing spending on education next year if this economic downturn continues, probably in the form of teacher salary...IF the legislature will also reduce their salary, their automatic raises each year without a vote, and their lifetime, taxpayer-funded health benefits. Teachers and legislators are all public servants and should share the burden along with other state agencies.

Constitution Day and the John Birch Society's kind offer

A couple weeks ago, someone from the John Birch Society left a letter and CD in the mailbox of the social studies teachers at my school. It reminded them that Constitution Day is Wednesday, September 17th, explained that they were legally obligated to teach about the constitution on that day, according to Public Law 108-477(b), and suggested they use the CD provided.

The law actually says a school receiving federal funds has to present some sort of program about the constitution. I haven't read the letter personally yet, but the teacher I spoke with got the impression from it that teachers were supposed to individually teach about the constitution that day. He thought it was basically a good idea, but worried it would not be as effective as it could be since it would not be closely related with the current unit of study and be taught to half of his students the day after because of the A/B block schedule. He also jokingly wondered what the John Birch Society would think if he presented the view of the constitution as a living document, subject to modern interpretation.

I think constitutional principles should be integrated into most components of social studies curriculum, and for that matter, much of the curriculum for other classes. And I think that some sort of program or teaching moment about the importance of the constitution is probably a good thing today, but I don't know that a law mandating it on this specific day is necessary. It kind of seems artificial and ineffective. In my opinion, a teacher skillfully involving the students with relevant principles during class can be a strong, positive influence on teens, while some preachy, mandated message is usually ignored. At least it's better than the proposed state law mandating that the constitution be displayed in every classroom--a meaningless gesture with some cost attached that wouldn't achieve anything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

School Board District 1 candidate oddities and redux on the fraudulent USU tuition tax study commissioned by the legislature to cook the voucher #'s

When reviewing a Paul Rolly article column this weekend for my discussion of District 8, I saw another little detail I had forgotten. He said that one of the authors of the USU tuition tax study from 2004 was running for state school board in District 1. Checking the state election site shows that Roberta Herzberg was supposedly "eliminated," but Sara Brate's rundown of the committee votes shows that she dropped out sometime previous to the June 2 committee meeting. The Rolly column is from April 16th, so she was assumably still in the race then. (No guarantees with Rolly...) Does anyone know what happened or why she dropped out?

FYI paragraph: District 1 incumbent Teresa Theurer was given a low score by the voting committee, despite getting 64% of the public vote in 2006. As that last link explains, Governor Huntsman in June just cut the person scored lowest by his biased committee from the ballot. I don't personally know anything about Teresa Theurer. Tom at KVNU, whose commentary I valued even when I didn't agree with him, said "Teresa is one of the most brilliant public officials I’ve ever met." I think a public official should be able to stand for re-election. A politically appointed committee filtering the candidates has corrupted the process in my opinion. You can listen to a podcast of a KVNU interview with Theurer on June 3rd here--I think I remember it's in the 2nd hour. I'll try and listen again soon and find what minute the interview starts.

So I found the entire process in District 1 frustrating. I'm personally glad Roberta Herzberg dropped out, and I want to highlight her study again. Here's the link to the study, posted at the Parent's for Choice in Education website. The authoring information is on page 4. The Executive summary begins by explaining the fight over vouchers and tuition tax credits in 2003 and 2004. It argues the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's (LFA) estimates of "switch rates" and cost are faulty. They said the LFA set the variable or marginal cost per student in 2003 at $2,793.

The next paragraph reads:
While these estimates flowed from the best existing information available under the time constraints, they were deemed inadequate to inform debate on such a critical issue. Based on the desire to have a more complete measure of the impact of the proposed policy change, Utah’s Legislative Management Committee commissioned this study. Over the course of the last four months, a team of scholars from Utah State University and Southern Utah University designed an econometric simulation model and qualitative studies of the effects of implementing tuition tax credits (TTC) on Utah educational demand and supply decisions. This report contains the results of that effort.

Translation: The legislature didn't like the truth so casually stated by their own employees (the legislative fiscal analysts), so they found some professors willing to cook up something a little more complicated. I don't know what exactly an econometric simulation model is, but I do know "qualitative" studies are not appropriate measures of exact figures of dollars and cents. "Quantitative" studies, as you might guess from the name, are the types of studies that can measure exact numbers and figures.

Focusing just on the financial aspects of the study, here is the cost conclusion from the Executive Summary (I underlined two sentences for emphasis):
A second consideration critical to good decision making with respect to this policy is an estimate of the costs associated with a student coming into or leaving the public school system. The legislature needs to know how much will be saved, at the margin, if a student is induced to make an educational choice outside of the Utah public school system. This value is known to economists as marginal cost. We estimate marginal cost per weighted pupil unit (WPU) in 2002-2003 to be $8,675 for the typical Utah school district. All Utah school districts have estimated marginal costs in the range of $7,700 to $10,350. It is a testament to the worthiness of our schools that they invest so much in each additional student. But, this is then also the value that the state and local districts can be expected to save from public school appropriations if a single student leaves a publicly funded school. This figure significantly exceeds per student spending (which was about $6,500 in 2002) or spending per WPU which was just under $6,000 in 2003 (economists call these measures average total cost). This is to be expected and is a natural result of school district managers doing their job well. The principle behind marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional (or one less) unit of output from the current level of production. This is critical to decision making because all decisions are fundamentally about changing production from one level to another. In this case, Utah is concerned about how a tuition tax credit will change enrollments and costs from their current level. The cost of those changes is the basis for making decisions. Costs not related to that change are irrelevant to a decision about change; however, they may be important for evaluating overall business performance.

The authors throw around the term WPU very casually. To clarify, the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) is the amount the state government sends each district per student. (Be sure to read the 2nd paragraph of that link closely. In 2002, it was $2116 per student. Substantially more is sent for Special Ed. and ESL students. The $6500 per student spending figure above is calculated the same way the Utah Taxpayer’s Association calculated the $7200 per student for the voucher debate last year: it includes money not gathered by the state and costs spent on every imaginable expense related to education, including fixed costs such as those incurred by individual districts to build new schools. For example, they divide out the $20 million or so being spent to build the new high school in Saratoga Springs into a portion per student for the entire state and pretend that the state somehow saves that money by a kid from St. George going to private school.

So follow the logic. In 2002, the state of Utah sent each district $2116 for the average student. If you throw in all of the federal, district, and trustlands money NOT sent by the state, but spent on fixed cost programs throughout the entire state, you can get a total spent per student figure of $6200. (See the argument about school construction above, or think of this: when the school buys a computer for a lab, it does not get a pro-rated refund when one of the hundreds of kids who use that computer leaves the school. The money is spent.) This study actually claimed that when that same student left the district to attend private school, the district magically saved $8675. Wow. It’s easy!! Just enroll kids in the district and pay them $2116. Then take the kids back out and charge the district $8675. Budget crisis solved, plenty of money to fund vouchers, and public school system severely weakened or dissolved as this “magic money” keeps being deducted. If you want to see the abstracted figures the authors use to destroy logic, it starts around page 45 of the study.

I saw the $1 billion savings figure floated regularly in PCE ads and in letters from Senator Valentine and Representative Curtis. (The blog that had the copy of the letter deleted all of its voucher stuff. Does anyone have a link or copy of that letter lying around? The one in the last day or two before the vote.) They were based on these lies. Many voucher supporters believe them still today. Senator Dayton never read the study. I'm doubting many other legislators did either. I used a strong word in my title and I stand by it: educational fraud.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

State School Board District 8 didn't get vetted by the biased committee and Trent Kaufman is an interesting study

The first purpose of this post is to clarify a blank spot in my understanding. I hadn't realized until a few days ago that there was a State School Board race with only two candidates to begin with. Trent Kaufman is challenging incumbent Janet Cannon in State Senate District 8.

No other candidates filed in District 8, so Cannon and Kaufman totally avoided the whole process of the biased nominating committee and the governor narrowing the field down to three and then to two. Outside of some legislative insiders, most feel it's a horrible process, and it was particularly partisan this year with "business interests" voting as a bloc (I use the quotes because business owners are not a monolithic group with similar views in my experience. These business rep's appointed by the governor are from influential circles with narrow views.), and with the governor, eliminating three incumbents without allowing the public to decide on their job performance. (I don't even like Colbert's positions, but he should get a chance to stand for re-election.) Sara Brate at the Accountability Blog compiled the committee votes in a Google doc.

I wrote a little about the process, but mostly just linked to excellent posts by Sara. (From the link--Did you know that in 2006 two State School Board candidates received over $30,000 dollars each from Parents for Choice in Education? One of them won their election and one didn’t.)

This has colored the thinking of those public education advocates paying attention, but with the lack of attending controversy, District 8 still managed to slide under the radar, at least for me. The race had gotten the least publicity of all the districts until the Tribune article last week showed that Kaufman had raised a surprisingly high amount of money ($7,939 to Cannon’s $0), much of it from out-of-state donors. This fact immediately triggers alarm bells for those who remember PCE’s attempt to stack the school board in 2006, and perhaps some faulty assumptions as well. I know I immediately assumed Kaufman was one of those candidates vetted through the biased committee when I read he was facing an incumbent. It took me a minute to go look up the race on the state election site when I couldn't find District 8 on the voting spreadsheet above. I bet others connected those dots erroneously too because we've been so concerned about the process. I'm posting this to clarify there is a race that didn't get filtered through the committee, and that Trent Kaufman actually has public school credentials, while having no real history on charter schools. I do not mean this to “vet” him fully…I still have unanswered questions about his positions, especially on vouchers, and am still taking his explanation of the money he raised with a grain of salt.

This stems from the summary I posted of the new legislative-leadership-hosted Red Meat Radio show's first broadcast the other day (Exciting Episode #2 is this morning! I really don't care about the Palin debate, but I'll have to tune in second hour to hear Senator Stephenson's take on merit pay and those "callous" teachers.) , including a segment where Kaufman explained why he thought the Tribune was trying to unfairly label him as a voucher supporter.

Mr. Kaufman emailed to thank me for writing about the show and explain more of what he said because I had tuned in part way through his interview. He feels Paul Rolly was falsely labeling him as part of the "charter school movement" because of an anonymous tip when the opposite is true from his record, and that Lisa Schenker also had him pegged unfairly. Here is what he wrote:
In April Paul Rolly, Tribune columnist emailed me and asked if I was a member of the Charter School movement. I said I didn't know what he was talking about and where he got his information. He said he couldn't reveal his sources but he was grateful I set the record straight. I poured over everything on the internet about me to try to understand where he would have gotten this from. I'm not part of the Utah education establishment, having worked in education in CA and MA, but not yet Utah, so I can't imagine who in Utah would have come up with the idea that I somehow was part of the charter school movement (whatever that means). On my resume it shows that I presented at the CA Charter School Association Conference about some tools created in public schools that might be relevant to charter schools too. I can only assume that that's where he got his angle.

He then wrote a story about how there was a pro charter, pro voucher candidate as well as a pro union candidate running in every race and simply glossed over my district instead of pointing out that there are two pro public school candidates in District 8. This is when I realized it would be hard for me to prove my loyalty to public schools in this campaign, since Janet has proven to support public schools too. In other words, Rolly wanted it to be partisan even though it isn't a partisan election. I think we need to ratchet up the expectations within public schools in Utah (coming from MA, I have seen a real difference). That's my big "reform" message.

Lisa's first question for me on the phone was: "I heard you are involved in charter schools…" As you can imagine, I sighed and then explained who I am.

I'm actually glad to read that you are curious about my donations too. I thought Lisa was trying to make something out of nothing. So to hear you are curious means perhaps others are too. Several school board members have raised more than me in previous years, I guess others will simply raise money later in the campaign.

My real issue with Rolly and Schenker's questions is that I really don't like partisan politics entering the school boards in any form. I think the polarization that occurs is plain bad for kids. And it felt like the media was trying to create partisan divide where there wasn't any.

I liked that Mr. Kaufman explained his position clearly and was not defensive. I don't have first-hand experience with schools back East, but have heard similar comments about the higher school standards (especially in Virginia) from many friends and acquaintances--raising our standards seems a worthy goal. I'm glad that he understood my suspicions about his out-of-state donations and would like to learn more about his statement that previous school board candidates have raised even more money than him. Is he referring only to the two PCE candidates who received $30,000 in out-of-state pro-voucher money in 2006, or were there others? If he's got thousands more than his fellow candidates now, how much more will he have by November? I honestly wonder if any other school board candidates will raise $8000. What big donors are interested besides PCE?

I also 124% agree with his dislike of partisan politics in school boards. For the record, Senator Stephenson, the host of last Saturday’s show who interviewed Kaufman, co-sponsored and voted for Senator Bramble's bill (SB 194) in 2007 that would have made state school board races explicitly partisan. It passed the Senate before dying in the House.

From Kaufman’s explanation and then looking at his website and biography, I also thought that maybe he was characterized unfairly...until I went back and read Rolly’s article. I don’t think Rolly does much more fair than that, in terms of his comments about Kaufman. Yes, it is possible to make assumptions about Kaufman, but I think the column makes things more clear, not less. (In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t retain the information after reading the article months ago.) Rolly clearly treats Kaufman differently than the other candidates he reported on, stating “the committee won’t have influence” and that he was a high school principal, while calling the others “the most fervent charter-school advocates and pro-voucher devotees.” I explained in my last post that I think Kaufman over-reacted to the Schenker article as well.

So…I like many of Kaufman’s positions (on class size [in the Opinions section] and merit pay)...and I’m suspicious of his funding, some of his supporters (Senator Stephenson, Jeff Hartley—former XO of the Utah GOP…as well as some non-fawning, quality endorsements from Patty Sandstrom and Gardner Brown), and think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill with his complaints about the media. There’s not a lot of information about Janet Cannon out there, no website that I could find, but here’s a small bio and an article about an award she received in 2006 for her service on the State School Board. It seems at first glance that district 8 has two good candidates to choose from. Keep researching and choose carefully.

The Paul Rolly column and Lisa Schenker article containing information about State School Board District 8

These are the two articles Trent Kaufman referenced in his radio interview last week. I am underlining the bit in Rolly's column about State School Board District 8, and inserting a bracket in bold halfway through Schenker's article where the information about Kaufman begins.
Rolly: Pro-voucher candidates pack races
By Paul Rolly
Tribune Columnist
Article Last Updated: 04/16/2008 06:34:10 AM MDT

In Monday's column, I noted the influence of the lobbyist-laden
nominating committee beholden to legislative leadership, and how that
group has much say over which State School Board candidates will
appear on the ballot.
The influence of the nominating committee arises when more than
three candidates file for a school board district. The committee pares
the number to three, then sends the names to the governor, who chooses
two for the election.
Here are details showing how this year's election could be stacked
with pro-voucher candidates for the state school board, a board that
has opposed vouchers.
Noting that the most fervent charter-school advocates and
pro-voucher devotees share many of the same donors and campaign
organizations, the five candidates in District 1 include a former
charter-school board member, the author of a highly disputed
pro-voucher study at Utah State University and an officer of the Cache
County Republican Party that supported vouchers.
The five candidates in District 4 include the board chair of a
charter school and a former legislator supported by voucher advocates.
The backgrounds of the six candidates in District 7 don't paint a
clear picture of their stance on vouchers, although one reportedly was
asked to run by one of the stoutest voucher supporters in the Utah
The seven candidates in District 11 include a former spokesperson
for Parents for Choice in Education, the board chairman of a charter
school, the communications director for Parents for Choice in
Education and the husband of a charter-school founder.
The five candidates in District 12 include the husband of a
charter school principal and the wife of a staunch pro-voucher state
senator. And the seven candidates in District 13 include a board
member of a charter school who also is a trustee of the pro-voucher
Children First Utah, the sister of the pro-voucher chairman of the
Utah Republican Party and a member of the Utah County Republican
Central Committee, which took a strong pro-voucher stand.
The only district in which the committee won't have influence is
District 8, which has only two candidates - incumbent Janet Cannon and former high school principal Trent Kaufman.

Meeting of the minds? Since the Legislature created the law
allowing charter schools to become part of the public school system
several years ago, the State Office of Education has had several
challenges ensuring that, as public schools, they adhere to the
constitutional requirement of church-state separation.
Liberty Academy originally advertised itself as a "Utah Christian
public school." More than one charter school asked students applying
for admission to include on the application their baptismal date and
what their parents' "callings" were in church.
State school officials are still pondering the practice of renting
out the school bus for transportation to LDS seminary by the Paradigm
charter school, as well as Eagle Mountain's Maeser Prep renting space
owned by the school for LDS seminary classes.

State Board of Education: A new name may go on ballot for school board
Candidate Ted Heap's failure to file a financial disclosure raises the possibility, officials say
By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/03/2008 12:02:09 AM MDT

One candidate for Utah State Board of Education is out of the race, which could leave room for someone who didn't make the ballot, according to the Lt. Governor's Office.
District 11 candidate Ted Heap did not file a campaign financial disclosure report by the deadline Tuesday, meaning he is out of the race, said Mark Thomas, office administrator at the Lt. Governor's Office. Thomas said it's his understanding that Heap purposefully didn't file, but he didn't know why.
Attempts to reach Heap for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. Thomas said his office is now looking into how another candidate might be chosen to appear on the ballot.
Six candidates filed to run for the District 11 seat, but Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. chose only two to appear on the ballot after a governor-appointed committee narrowed the field. The committee and governor chose Heap and Dave Crandall over the other four candidates, including incumbent Bill Colbert.
Heap has worked as a developer and a U.S. Air Force Intelligence Analyst. Crandall serves as chairman of the Summit Academy charter school board and works for a Sandy consulting company.
Colbert said he is interested in serving longer on the board if he's asked.
The governor-appointed committee, however, ranked Colbert second to last among the six candidates. The next highest ranked candidate after Crandall and Heap was Ralph Haws, chairman of the Jordan School District's west-side transition team. Haws said he is still interested in appearing on the ballot for state board.
Financial disclosures due Tuesday also showed that one candidate has pulled far ahead of the others in terms of money raised.
Trent Kaufman has already raised $7,939 for his District 8 race against incumbent Janet Cannon. That's more than 13 times as much as any of the other 12 candidates for school board had raised as of Tuesday. Most state board candidates haven't raised more than $15.
"The amount I've raised is not quite yet, but close to, commensurate with how serious I am about the need for change on the school board," Kaufman said.
So far, nine of Kaufman's 18 contributors live outside of Utah and $1,344 is Kaufman's own money. Kaufman said all those out-of-state contributors are friends, former co-workers and/or family. He said none of them donated because of vouchers. Kaufman said as far as he's concerned the voucher issue is "off the table."
Kaufman is a former teacher and principal with a master's degree in educational leadership. He said he's also a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy.
Cannon has not yet raised any money to campaign for her seat, according to the disclosure reports. She could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Public Referendum in Sevier County disallowed because of SB 53 which took effect AFTER the signatures were submitted. UPDATE: Ruling is being appealed

The Tribune details the reasoning for the power plant referendum being taken off the ballot. (Why is the Tribune the only one covering referendums in Utah? I can't find anything in the Deseret News about the disputes about Sevier County, Beaver County, or Box Elder County.) How does this decision benefit anyone? Seriously? Besides those with a financial stake in building the power plant in Sevier County, who does SB 53 benefit?

The legal reasoning seems faulty to me as well since the petitioning group turned in their signature two days before the new SB 53 law took effect. The judge in the case about the Box Elder Referendum (2nd article down dated 5/17) rejected all arguments against a public referendum "The court finds that the issue . . . is one of great potential impact upon the county's environment, resources and citizens and very appropriate for voter participation."

Does anyone else care? Can an appeal be expedited to take place before the November elections? Once again--why was this bill, apparently written by wealthy lobbyist, Steve Barth, proposed and passed? Did our state Representatives and Senators of both parties actually read the bill and question what need it was addressing?

Here's the full text of the article:

Judge knock's people's vote on power plant off the ballot
Sevier County citizens considering an appeal
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/09/2008 08:09:59 PM MDT

Posted: 8:09 PM- A 6th District Court Judge ruled Tuesday to pull a power-plant referendum off Sevier County's ballot.
"We're quite pleased with the judge's decision," said Fred Finlinson, one of the attorneys for Sevier Power Co.
According to Finlinson, Judge Wallace Lee ruled from the bench shortly after hearing oral arguments at the Richfield courthouse, using a new state law as the basis for his decision.
With SB53, "the Legislature determined that the initiative process does not apply to the changing of a zoning ordinance," Finlinson said.
For several months, Sevier County residents - led by Elaine Bonavita's Right to Vote Committee - fought to put construction of the proposed coal-fired power plant to a public vote.
The Right To Vote committee submitted over 1,500 signatures two days before SB53 took effect on May 5. In July, Sevier County Commissioners allowed the referendum to advance to the ballot, but juggled terminology in a way that could have rendered it invalid.
"It was an unexpected and disappointing result," said Jeff Owen, the attorney representing the Right To Vote effort.
"Judge Lee felt that SB53 was in effect at the time of our initiative because the County Commission took no action on it until July 7," Owens said. "I disagree. On May 3, my clients did the last thing they could possibly do and it was out of their hands at that point."
Judge Lee did not rule on whether SB53 is constitutional, choosing instead to leave that up to the state Supreme Court, which will deal with the BRAVE v. Beaver County case concerning the proposed Mt. Holly ski and golf resort.
Before SB53 took effect, the state attorney general's office advised that courts might strike the new law down as being unconstitutional because of its limits on local initiative and referendum powers.
Sevier County residents associated with the Right To Vote effort are considering an appeal, Owens said.
In the meantime, Sevier Power Co. will pursue further county approvals and also faces a state Supreme Court battle with the Sierra Club over air quality issues. That appeal is scheduled for early October, Finlinson said.

The Sevier Referendum petitioners are appealing on two different grounds: One, SB 53 is an unconstitutional (Utah State Constitution) restriction on the public's right to redress government. Two, even if you find that SB 53 is not a sham, they submitted their petition two days before the law took effect. The new law should be irrelevant to the legal petition. They're right on both counts I believe.,5143,700257775,00.html

Monday, September 8, 2008

Red Meat Radio—Who do you trust more? Politicians or the media?

I first saw the announcement in my UPD update: the legislative Republicans (and they claim Democrats) are going to host their own radio show every Saturday morning from 8-10 to “set the record straight” “for those tired of getting their news filtered by the liberal local media.” Then I saw the Senate Site announcement and this kcpw interview where Senator Stephenson constantly repeats how constantly the local media’s lies distort the truth. Paul Rolly and the Out of Context blog commented, as well as JM Bell (Be ready for some language, but check the comments at the bottom of the post for examples of the legislature winning the spin war). I don’t agree with JM’s politics that often, but this statement is right on:

Republicans in Utah acting picked on and oppressed? With a straight face? Are you kidding me? You guys have no sense of shame, irony or, for that matter, self awareness.

Last Saturday morning, Sep. 6th, was the first show. I had a commitment until just before 9:00, but caught the rest of the show. The first thing I heard was Senator Stephenson interviewing Trent Kaufman, candidate for State School Board District #8. Kaufman was complaining about an article by Lisa Schenker of the Tribune, who often covers education stories. She called him to ask about the disproportionately large amount of money he had already raised for his campaign, much from out-of-state donors. This would be an important angle I think in any political campaign, but especially in a State School Board race contested the year after the huge influx of out-of-state money during the voucher referendum, and hundreds of thousands of dollars during the Utah legislative races in 2004 ($250,000 that year alone) and 2006. (See a bunch of good posts from the Accountability Blog on the subject.) Kaufman said the money came from friends and family and explained that he would never, ever have dreamed that vouchers would come into this. He “could tell” that Schenker really wanted to write a story about how voucher money was coming into the race, and although she quoted him correctly, the subtle feeling was still there. And he thinks she would have written lies about him if he hadn’t spoken with her. Stephenson agreed and pointed out that around 130,000 people live in state school board district and so you need lots of money.

Kaufman may be a potentially great school board member (I 100% agree with his comments about class size at the bottom of his bio), but he kissed up to Senator Stephenson about “all that he does for Utah” and came off to me like he was trying to make an issue out of nothing in order to please the anti-media legislators. I think the fact he’s raised $8000 dollars in a school board race where $15 is the norm is suspicious, and that Schenker’s article covers that without even a whiff of accusation. The fact is stated and the situation itself raises eyebrows. Kaufman’s website alleviates most of my concerns, but I will rightfully be very suspicious of any out-of-state money coming into school board races. That’s all my opinion—see for yourself in the article that was “set straight.” Here’s the relevant half of Schenker’s article that talks about Kaufman. Realize the article was titled “State Board of Education: A new name may go on ballot for school board” and the Kaufman stuff doesn’t start until over halfway though.

Financial disclosures due Tuesday also showed that one candidate has pulled far ahead of the others in terms of money raised.
Trent Kaufman has already raised $7,939 for his District 8 race against incumbent Janet Cannon. That's more than 13 times as much as any of the other 12 candidates for school board had raised as of Tuesday. Most state board candidates haven't raised more than $15.
"The amount I've raised is not quite yet, but close to, commensurate with how serious I am about the need for change on the school board," Kaufman said.
So far, nine of Kaufman's 18 contributors live outside of Utah and $1,344 is Kaufman's own money. Kaufman said all those out-of-state contributors are friends, former co-workers and/or family. He said none of them donated because of vouchers. Kaufman said as far as he's concerned the voucher issue is "off the table."
Kaufman is a former teacher and principal with a master's degree in educational leadership. He said he's also a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy.
Cannon has not yet raised any money to campaign for her seat, according to the disclosure reports. She could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

I wish now I’d taken notes, but the second hour was largely about Utah’s bad math standards and interviews with Oak Norton and Senator Dayton. I don’t know if I agree with their very possible assertion that our math standards are weak (I don’t work with those standards and my kids aren’t in school yet.), but the only media debunking was when they would argue the media was not dissecting and reporting test scores the way they think is the right way. It was more of a bully pulpit for Norton’s new website and the push for Singapore Math to be instituted statewide. I expect to hear a lot more of this as they struggle to find enough dishonest reporting each week and instead turn to just advocating their positions.

Relevant side note: As I said, I’m not in a position to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of math programs, but I see in this movement the same kind of one-sided justification of a favored position I’ve previously written about. Norton’s website has a frontpage headline and link about a study that shows all constructivist studies are wrong. The little I know of the basic concept of Singapore Math seems very interesting to me, but it’s still just one program trying to make money in a crowded market. This homeschooler curriculum review section shows a diversity of opinions and opposite interpretations from people who presumably have no need to mince words or protect a school or specific company. (The first three reviews are all positive, but you get a wide variety of reviews after that.) It’s the exact same curriculum, but it gets attacked for being both too repetitive and not repetitive enough for students to master basic concepts. Some find it entertaining, some “very dry.” Does it cover concepts too slowly or too fast? The same section also has similar reviews of Saxon Math, the beloved curriculum of many area charter schools. The reviews come in mixed as well--it is perfect for some kids and doesn’t work at all for others. I don’t believe there is one sure curriculum and teaching method that will help all students. A comment on their petition page (Use the find function to search for Ofa Moeai’s comment down the list.) expressed the same type of concern. The Board President of Liberty Academy Charter School said she found that Singapore Math was nice, but needed to be supplemented to reach Utah’s state standards, let alone world class standards. The webpage editor then puts in a note that they propose to change the Utah standard to mimic the standards of Singapore Math thus solving the problem. A bit myopic maybe? The Singapore program might be good enough for a large enough percentage of all kids to be worth the shot, but it can’t be the panacea it portrays for all students. I think commentators too often get hung up on their personal silver bullet.

To continue with my rundown, Rep. Urquhart had taped a commentary about Sarah Palin and Sen. Stephenson, our host for the day, summarized something that Rep. Becky Lockhart had planned on calling in about, but was unable to. I was interested more in reading about the math program stuff and don’t exactly remember what that last issue discussed was. I assume they spent the first hour attacking Bob Bernick for his twisting of legislators’ words in a meeting he didn’t even attend.

Beyond my discussion of the specific topics of Saturday’s show, here’s the substantial question: Do you feel this new program addresses a substantive problem? Is the “liberal local media” really distorting the truth as told by our legislative leadership? Who do you trust more? Senator Dayton and Bramble went on and on about this at the public meeting I attended in January, saying we “should be offended” by the ethics accusations in the papers. I think I was too lenient in my post on that meeting and how vehement they were that we not trust the media. I think I could sit and chat with Senator Dayton on some subject not related to politics or education, but I don’t trust her research and judgment on education issues, despite her position as chair of the Senate Education Committee. I certainly don’t trust Senator Bramble or Senator Stephenson. I thought Senator Valentine’s explanation to me during a November voucher meeting about why the $7200 dollar spending figure was “intellectually honest” was intellectually dishonest.

So the short conclusion is that I generally trust the media A LOT more than I generally trust politicians. That’s not saying I trust media a lot, but that the gap between the two is wide. I really don’t trust any of them that much, and my trust for both national media and politicians is substantially below that for their local counterparts. Politicians and the hardcore believers in either “liberal” or “conservative corporate” media tell themselves in their echo chambers that it’s the media’s fault, but they have no one to blame but themselves for consistently playing politics over truth and well-reasoned debate. I would bet the general public agrees with my trust hierarchy here:

national politicians < national media < local politicians < local media

The middle two could be switched, but I feel pretty comfortable hypothesizing the general public would agree with my two endpoints.

What do you think? Who is trusted more or less? Did anyone else listen to the red meat radio show?


Friday, September 5, 2008

Obama and McCain on education--empty promises and vouchers?

I didn't listen to a lot of either convention, but I made a point to sit down for the speeches of the two candidates. Education was a minor point in both speeches, but McCain elaborated his vision slightly more.

Obama's promises for "an army of new teachers" with higher pay and more support are nice, but I don't know that he has or should have the power to fulfill them. I don't want the federal government mandating teacher pay, even if it's a higher salary. He'll invest in early childhood education and said he'd help families afford college.

McCain pulled out the voucher plan he's brought to more of a forward position over the last couple of months. I knew he was a voucher supporter from the first, but used to think it was a backburner issue because the president's role would be focusing on other issues. Apparently, McCain is serious about pushing some sort of national voucher plan. That is a big, big deal to me. His rhetoric about the failed school bureaucracies is generally just that, empty rhetoric. He did it as a generalization last night, and told the NAACP in July that the bureaucracies are to blame for the failing schools in poor black areas. In a way, that one Republican talking point repudiates the rest of their philosophy about personal and family responsibility rather than relying on others to save you. Blaming the schools is the cheap way out--those poor public schools are unsafe because of the principals and teachers rather than thug kids bringing guns? They talk the tough talk about crime, but then are too PC to say it's the culture and failed families in certain areas that are the principal causes of social ills, including failing schools? A private school will somehow change all of that rather than just kick out the problem kids? It's dumb.

I can agree with McCain about getting rid of bad teachers (which probably also requires better pay across the board to attract more teachers to fill in those gaps) and paying teachers more who work in those tough, dangerous areas. I agree they should make more than me securely and happily teaching in suburban Alpine District. And both candidates support merit pay to a limited degree which I have a lot of mixed feelings about and still haven't gotten around to posting about.

Here are the relevant bits of education talk from each candidate and links to articles from KSL and CNN about McCain's July speech to the NAACP on education. Both include some of Obama's positions and rebuttals at the end.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

We will prepare them for the jobs of today. We will use our community colleges to help train people for new opportunities in their communities. For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage.

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I'm President, they will.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Articles about the Box Elder County referendum where a 2-1 vote of a 3-member county commission authorized the sale of the county landfill

This KSL article has an explanation of the initial positions, pictures, and some horrible arguments for disallowing referendums:

The 2nd article down describes the court decision allowing the referendum--very applicable to the importance of referendums overall.
Box Elder residents want more say in landfill suit
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/23/2008 03:21:32 PM MDT

Posted: 3:22 PM- BRIGHAM CITY - Box Elder County residents who
successfully petitioned for a right to vote on selling the county
landfill are now asking a judge to let them have a say in the lawsuit
challenging the referendum.
Eight residents, including several sponsors of the petition, say
in a 1st District Court filing that they have both a constitutional
and a statutory interest in seeing that the landfill vote remains on
the Nov. 4 ballot.
The Northern Utah Regional Landfill Authority, comprised of
garbage districts covering most of northern Utah, wants to turn Box
Elder County's Little Mountain Landfill southwest of Tremonton into a
large regional dump.
The three-member County Commission, two of whom also serve on the
authority's board, agreed last December to sell the landfill to the
But residents were angry over what they considered a lack of
public debate and circulated petitions to force a referendum on the
sale. They gathered far more signatures than were necessary, and
County Recorder LuAnn Adams certified the petitions and put the matter
on the ballot.
In its lawsuit against the county and Adams, the landfill
authority argues that the Box Elder Commission's decision to sell the
landfill was administrative, not legislative, and thus not subject to
a referendum.
Ron Germer, a Brigham City resident who is among the eight trying
to intervene in the case, said they are trying to protect the
constitutional rights of the 4,400 residents who signed petitions.
"It is unbelievable that NURLA would try to infringe upon the
rights of the people," he wrote in an e-mail. "If this is what we can
expect from them, I am not sure we should have anything to do with
Some of petition signers have said that, although they eventually
may support selling the landfill, they want a more public process
before the decision is made.
NURLA was organized last year by four entities that handle all the
garbage - except Bountiful's - in Davis, Morgan, Weber, Box Elder and
Cache counties.
Participants are Wasatch Integrated Waste Management System, Weber
County, Box Elder County and Logan.
Little Mountain facility
Box Elder landfill sale decision appears headed for the ballot
Judge Hadfield rejects arguments seeking to quash the referendum
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 05/17/2008 12:34:41 AM MDT

BRIGHAM CITY - Box Elder County residents will get to vote after all on the sale of their Little Mountain Landfill to a regional landfill authority.
First District Court Judge Ben Hadfield has rejected arguments from the Northern Utah Regional Landfill Authority (NURLA) to keep a voter referendum off the Nov. 4 ballot.
Reggie Petersen of Penrose cheered the judge's decision.
"I'm happy the judicial system protected the Constitutional right of the people to have a say," he said.
The Box Elder County Commission voted last December to sell the landfill southwest of Tremonton to NURLA, formed in 2007 by garbage districts covering five northern Utah counties. The plan is to line and enlarge the landfill to eventually accommodate garbage from Davis County on the south to Cache County on the north.
Unhappy with the sale, county residents gathered more than 4,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.
NURLA sued, asking the judge to rule that Box Elder County Clerk LuAnn Adams was wrong to certify the petitions.
The landfill authority argued that the commission's decision was administrative, not a policy-making decision open to referendum. It also argued that the sale fell under Utah's Interlocal Cooperation Act, which prohibits referendum - and that the matter was too complex to entrust to voters.
The judge rejected all three arguments.
"The court finds that the issue . . . is one of great potential impact upon the county's environment, resources and citizens and very appropriate for voter participation."
Weber County Commissioner Craig Dearden, the chairman of NURLA, said the authority board will meet June 5 to discuss its options.
The lawsuit, he said, was more about clarification than preventing the public from voting, he said.
Nonetheless, "We felt like the County Commissioners represent the people and were elected by the people and they made their decision to sell it."
Election issue
Landfill authority to make case for dump sale on ballots
The agency previously had opposed putting the matter before voters
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 06/19/2008 12:44:28 AM MDT

BRIGHAM CITY - The board representing garbage districts in five
northern Utah counties decided unanimously Wednesday to drop its
challenge of a voter initiative in Box Elder County.
The Northern Utah Regional Landfill Authority board (NURLA),
comprised of elected officials from Davis to Cache County, instead
turned its attention to defeating the initiative on November's ballot.
Opponents of selling Box Elder County's Little Mountain Landfill
to NURLA gathered more than 4,000 signatures last winter, giving
voters a shot at reversing a Box Elder County Commission decision made
last December.
The NURLA board this spring sued in 1st District Court, arguing
the matter was not open to a referendum, but Judge Ben Hadfield ruled
against NURLA.
"We communicated as a body that our intent was to refer to the
court to have its opinion," said Box Elder County Commissioner Clark
Davis, who added that the board should "live with the decision."
The board now has to figure out how it will campaign for the sale
because it is illegal to use public money to do so.
Attorney Patrick Malone said NURLA can use public money to explain
its reasoning, but must give opponents the opportunity to explain
their positions as well.
Brigham City Mayor Lou Ann Christensen told the board its plan for
a regional landfill would save the city $90,000 to $150,000 a year in
tipping fees. She encouraged the board to organize independent
supporters to raise money for the publicity campaign.
Opponents of selling the landfill told the board it should
consider other options.
Dean Anderson, of Bear River City, said the Little Mountain site
is too small for the five counties' garbage, while a site on
Promontory Point is better suited.
"They just need to look at the big picture," said Anderson. "They
need to super-size."
The board settled on expanding the landfill at Little Mountain,
southwest of Tremonton, as the best choice after a feasibility study
last year.
Resident Bonnie Germer, who was involved in the petition drive,
said she doesn't want her county partnering with others in the
regional landfill authority.
"If you lose in November, don't come back suing us, because we
will fight you again," said Germer.

Bob Bernick is not trustworthy…but Urquhart, Killpack, and co. are not telling the whole story about referendums either. A look at SB 53 and SB 54.

Bob Bernick is biased and unreliable and is correctly being called on it by Rep. Urquhart, BUT…our state legislators are also using his dishonesty to dance around the important issue of citizen redress because they ALREADY made major changes in referendums and initiatives this past session, making most submission dates even more difficult to meet and eliminating any land use referendums as another bone to powerful developers.


I first saw Bernick’s sloppiness clearly in his February story on conflicts of interest (Not saying it wasn't there before—I just wasn't paying attention to individual reporters until recently). I think it is a legitimate and very important issue, but Bernick lazily mixed the lesser number of substantive conflicts with broad accusations of conflict on very flimsy grounds (e.g. any lawyer proposing any bill having to do with law was conflicted and similar claims about other professions), even accusing Senate President Valentine of having conflicts on 3 completely empty "boxcar" bills. When the Senate leaders responded, Bernick threw a fit at being called lazy and unethical and counter-attacked Senators Dmitrich and Bramble for the extensive amounts of lobbyist gifts they accepted. Once again, I 100% agree with his position that Dmitrich and Bramble compromised their public trust and showed a continuing lack of ethics by accepting those trips and gifts (During a January Q&A session, Bramble tried to browbeat attending teachers in defense of his trips and Jazz games, daring us to “Raise your hand if you think that was a conflict of interest. Anyone? Anyone?” as he glowered around the room inviting some poor teacher to take him on.), but it has absolutely nothing to do with whether Bernick fabricated conflicts of interest about empty bills or not. Bernick’s latest claim that the legislature intended to make the signature gathering process for referendums more difficult, but then reversed course, is apparently another instance of “creative reporting” judging from the callout by Senator Killpack and Rep. Urquhart’s confidence that the tapes of the discussion will vindicate the legislators.

SB 53 and SB 54—Citizens’ rights of redress

That said, I feel Rep. Urquhart and Senator Killpack are being disingenuous as well. They didn’t make that one, specific change to the signature gathering requirements that Bernick is claiming, but they did pass two new laws restricting certain referendums and making the hoops more difficult for every type of referendum and initiative except statewide referendums—and I believe that is only because they were wary of just such an attack as Bernick made. So they left out the type of referendum they lost on to provide themselves some false moral high ground while simultaneously restricting the right of their constituents to affect the decision making process at all other levels of government. I don’t think there was a problem with the former requirements that needed to be addressed or any defensible rationale for the new restrictions on citizen redress. I personally asked Senator Bramble about his opinion on referendum law and the signature gathering requirements in the January meeting, heard his disdain for it as he explained similar points to what Bernick quotes him as saying (the people aren't informed, ancient pure democracies failed, California is worst state, etc.), and finally got his statement that he thought the bar for signatures was probably high enough so they wouldn’t change it this session. I feel he wasn’t quite straight with me on legislative intent since he didn’t mention the other crucial changes they were planning for referendum law.

Let’s look at the two laws. I want to start with the fact that both of these bills enjoyed near unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans. Insulating elected officials from those pesky citizens seems to be a bipartisan issue.

First, SB 53. The only legislators to vote against this boon to developers were Rep.’s Kiser and Newbold. I don’t know either well, but neither has previously voted against the Republican grain much, especially Newbold. I would love to hear their reasoning.

Here is pretty much the entire text of the bill. It’s one page, short and deadly. The law changes the previous text of state code which only referred to budgets (new stuff in italics).

Highlighted Provisions:
This bill:
prohibits the use of local initiatives for land use ordinances or changes in land use ordinances; and prohibits voters from requiring the implementation of a land use ordinance to be submitted to voters.
(1) The legal voters of any county, city, or town may not initiate [budgets]: (a) a budget or [changes] a change in [budgets.] a budget; or_(b) a land use ordinance or a change in a land use ordinance.
(2) The legal voters of any county, city, or town may not require any budget adopted by the local legislative body or the implementation of a land use ordinance adopted by the local legislative body to be submitted to the voters.

Why?! What purpose does this serve? I can see why changing an established budget would be problematic. Planning would be impossible and many companies would not contract with the city, county, etc. if they thought the rug could be pulled from them on a vote in a couple of months. And as important a duty as the budget is for a council or legislature, it is relatively short-term and impermanent. A newly elected administration can easily make changes to the next year’s budget.

Other laws and policies, however, have much more long-lasting effects that can be difficult or impossible to change after the fact. Land use laws seem to fit squarely in that category. City or county bodies making those important decisions can be as small as three people. If they change the zoning and allow a company or subdivision to be built, the government can’t go back and tear down those structures if the decision makers or general population have regrets afterwards. Now, there’s a philosophical argument against zoning and land use laws in general in favor of increased private property rights, but that’s a different issue. If zoning laws in general were to be refuted, that would affect both legislative and public decisions. But as long as we as a society have decided that some form of land use regulation is legal and in our best interest, and those decisions have irreversible, permanent effects, then why shouldn’t the people be able to hold initiatives or referendums on land use ordinances?! I can honestly see no other reason than to appease developers.

I suspect the true motivation behind this bill came specifically from Wendell Gibby, the controversial developer trying to build a subdivision on land Mapleton City contends is environmentally sensitive. Gibby is extremely well-connected and high-ranking state legislators have communicated their ability to curtail the powers of local government and written letters threatening the job of the judge of the lawsuit. Concerned citizens at one point tried to hold a referendum overturning a decision by Mapleton officials allowing Gibby to build, but were not allowed to contest "an administrative action." There may actually be some legitimate concerns and debate over the proper use of the government’s eminent domain powers in the Mapleton case, but why should the people’s right to question officials’ land use decisions in general be taken away? Who does that serve?

Another current example is the upcoming and hotly disputed referendum in Sevier County where many residents are trying to overturn a county commission’s decision to allow a coal power plant to be built in a certain valley. This referendum was grandfathered since the process began before the passage of SB53, but would currently be illegal. The fundamental question is whether a county’s general population should be able to decide whether to allow a power plant? Or should some maneuvering and designations of different acronyms allow a small number of county commissioners to make this irreversible decision?

As illustrated in the last link, the power company is using SB53, which passed after the referendum process had begun, to justify a lawsuit attempting to halt the referendum. A Beaver County development group is using the same tactic to try and stop a vote on their project as well.

Knowing some of the recent history of the legislature helps. The Realtor Association and PAC and property development lobbyists are by far the best-connected and influential special interest groups on Capital Hill and in my opinion behind some horrible laws and tax breaks. The most egregious example of literally taking away the voting rights of ordinary citizens is HB 466, commonly known as “The Developer’s Dream Bill," which the legislators unanimously passed in 2007 with little debate. This bill honestly gave a large land owner permission to start their own town, include other property owners against their wishes as long as the cumulative amount of their property was low, and then appoint the city council for the first two years, while the other US citizens who were annexed received no vote on their public officials for two years. The famous Ruby’s Inn right outside the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park immediately incorporated, and now this literal “company town” where 73 of the 138 residents are relatives of the inn’s owner gets to pay itself $300,000 in taxes that used to help provide public services in sparsely populated Garfield County. There were at least two contentious attempts to incorporate towns of barely 100 people in Wasatch County, (Aspen, Utah unsuccessfully and Independence, Utah) and a contentious process is still going on today over the grandfathered incorporation of Powder Mountain as its own town with again the large corporation getting to hand-pick the mayor and city council of the town of under 150 people. The Weber County Forum and Ogden Valley Forum have frequently addressed this topic and examined the ridiculous nature of the bill’s process of incorporation:

The legislature soon recognized how stupid their unanimous vote looked with the law’s “variety of unintended, and unpleasant, consequences” (This is a Senate Site post written by two senators and titled “The Unintended Consequences of 2007’s HB 466." Be sure to read the comments from angry residents of Daniel, Utah in Heber Valley, victims of one of the aforementioned incorporation attempts.) and “clearly” it needed amending. They passed a new law this year, HB 164, that changes the incorporation rules to not allow wealthy land owners to take away the vote of other citizens, but refused to make it retroactive, claiming it would be “unfair” to the developers. If you’re going to read only one of these links, read this WCF post on the amendment process, where Senator Christensen is quoted “I had no idea it was wrong at the time,” he said. “I think it flew past all of us.I think that sums up why us citizens question the legislature anytime they want to take away our ability to vote on their decisions because they are so much better informed than us. As I said in a post earlier today, we often don't know as much about the inner-workings of many laws and processes, but we are just as capable of getting informed when something becomes very important to us. Many residents of Eden who are getting scooped up into Powder Mountain Kingdom know plenty about HB 466 now; many Beaver and Sevier County residents could tell you all about the flaws of SB 53; and it happened in the voucher debate. The elected representatives should gather information and legislate the majority of the time, but not feel territorial when the people want a say or try and protect their work from us.

SB 54 is a quieter bill that just tightens the screws a little bit, making it more unlikely that any of the above county or municipal referendums could ever happen. Speaker of the House Greg Curtis is the only legislator who voted against this bill on the floor. My negative opinion of Curtis leads me to believe this was some kind of stunt, and I did hear this mentioned once as “proving his independence” (on a bill he almost certainly knew would be passed unanimously before he allowed it onto the floor), but I don’t know for sure. I would love to hear his reasoning if indeed he disagrees with this bill.
The bill’s text is pages and pages long. Here’s the summary at the beginning of the bill—I’m leaving in the line numbers as I cut and paste this time because I don’t feel like deleting them all:

8 General Description:
9 This bill modifies provisions that govern requirements for state and local initiative
10 petitions and local referendum petitions.
11 Highlighted Provisions:
12 This bill:
13 . requires that a law that is proposed through a state or local initiative contain a title
14 that clearly expresses the subject of the proposed law;
15 . requires that a law proposed through a state or local initiative contain only one
16 subject;
17 . changes the deadline for submitting signature packets for statewide initiative
18 petitions from June 1 to April 15;
19 . changes the deadline for submitting signature packets for local initiatives and local
20 referenda from 120 days before the election to April 15;
21 . changes signature verification deadlines, circulation finance disclosure deadlines, and
22 appeal deadlines to accommodate the change in the deadline for submitting the
23 signature packets;
24 . moves referenda provisions related to the imposition of a county option sales tax
25 ordinance from Title 59, Revenue and Taxation, to the Election Code;
26 . provides that uniform signature verification timelines be applied to all local
27 referenda; and
28 . makes technical changes.

First, a side note. Think about the omnibus education bill lawsuit and notice the mind-boggling irony of lines 13-16. This is an addition, requiring the initiatives or referendums to have “a title that clearly expresses the subject of the proposed law” and that the proposal “contain only one subject.” It was specifically added under the sections for both state and local initiatives. Wouldn’t it have been funny if someone had filed an initiative with a broad title this year and the Attorney General’s office had to sue the filers for breaching this law while simultaneously defending SB2 on the same charges of breaking the Utah Constitution’s requirements for a clear title and single subject?

More on point, SB 54 moved the filing deadlines up almost 3 months for county and municipal referendums and initiatives (sometimes lumped together as “local” referendums and initiatives) and from July 1 to April 15 for statewide initiatives. I repeat my question: Why? What purpose does this bill serve or what problem does it address? The justifications used were to make it easier on county clerks and to make things “uniform.” I don’t see either one of those as justification for making an already onerous, difficult process even harder. As I understand it, an initiative or referendum drive has to gather signatures of 10% of the registered voters in a county or municipality to hold a local initiative or referendum. (And 10% of the registered voters in 26 of the 29 Utah counties for a state wide item. It was an amazing feat for the education community to gather those signatures in roughly 40 days. Does anyone reasonable think that is too long?) An occasional stressful period for clerks notified by the previous deadline, 120 days (4 months) before an election, is worth empowering the people to affect the legislative process. I can see the legislator’s arguments that there should be a relatively high bar to avoid crank legislation being on the ballot, but I see no evidence that frequent, “frivolous” referendums or initiatives have been on the ballot in Utah. I can personally remember a handful of initiatives, all in Salt Lake County, most dealing with some form of funding for public transportation, ZAP tax, and the like. I don’t agree with the outcome of all of those votes, but I feel the public is certainly justified in voting on the issue. Is there a list somewhere of what state, county, and local initiatives have been swamping our system with frivolity? (Here's a list of the 18 state wide initiatives and 2 state wide referendums in the last 48 years.)

And what about referendums? Again, I haven’t always been following the topic closely, but I don’t remember hearing about a public referendum on any level until the voucher vote last November. I certainly feel that vote was important and vindicating for the voice of the people, and the bar’s adequacy, or possibly overly rigorous nature, is illustrated by the fact that Referendum 1 was the first statewide referendum to successfully make it to the ballot in over 30 years. In fact the successful Referendum 1 on vouchers in 2007 and one other land use referendum in 1974 that failed to overturn the law it challenged are the only state wide referendums to make the ballot since 1960. Ballotpedia claims that hunters scared of animal rights initiatives were largely responsible for Utah's restrictive initiative and referendum laws. I don’t know enough to evaluate that assertion, but I don't view one successful referendum in 50 years as excessive. One could easily argue the opposite. I also agree with the premise that the Sevier County power plant referendum, the Beaver County zoning referendum, and the Box Elder County referendum on the sale of a county landfill approved by two possibly conflicted commissioners out of a three member county commission, are all appropriate and important exercises of the public’s right of ultimate authority over those voted into office to represent them, not rule them. These are the first local referenda I can recall hearing about and definitely not frivolous. If these important votes were the impetus for SB54, I think that making these local referenda more difficult was a corrupt decision from a bill largely designed and pushed by powerful development interests through their lobbyist, Steve Barth. Another argument for the too high bar is the difficulty of getting these referendums off the ground without some sort of organization. The forced stadium funding, where the state legislature passed a new law about county-assessed taxes in order to bypass the decision of the locally elected government body with which they disagreed and fund the Sandy soccer stadium (to benefit, of course, a very well-connected and wealthy developer, Dave Checketts) was an even more unpopular decision than vouchers. The referendum to overturn the law barely got off the ground and couldn't get close to the required number of signatures by the former, easier deadline because it was too hard to get volunteers and action organized. If something as stinky and top-down as the stadium funding switcharoo can’t get access to the ballot, that bar is very, very high. In their supposed quest to guard the process from "special interests," legislators may have effectively barred the process to all but those organizations with large numbers of motivated volunteers.

And finally, my argument about the relative hypocrisy of the legislator’s impassioned defense of current law. Notice they changed both referendum and initiative requirements at the municipal and county level, and also the state wide initiative requirements. If the new dates are so important and justified by the overworking of the clerks, why omit state wide referendums, which require a much higher number of signatures and verification work than local referendums? Political cover. The legislature can’t justify the new requirements because of any actual problems, but they are willing to restrict the voice of the people anyway, understanding that 99% of the population will never notice or think about a low-flying law like SB54. As long as they don't touch the current lightning rod of state referendums, they feel safe in cutting the people out of the process more and more.

So when an editorial claims that “Bramble, Valentine, and Rep. Steve Urquhart, of St. George, unequivocally told the D-News from the start that there was nothing wrong with Utah's referendum system and it wasn't up for change.” take it with a large grain of salt. I totally agree the Deseret News should release the recording and that Bernick is often an inaccurate blowhard, but I don’t take the righteous chest thumping of vote-restricting legislative leadership figures at face value.

Articles about Sevier County power plant referendum and SB 53--power company tries to switch zoning acronyms to avoid referendum

A few lines underlined by me.
Sevier County plant will be on ballot
Residents will vote on the coal-fired power facility in November
By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 07/08/2008 12:21:40 AM MDT

A referendum that would allow Sevier County residents to vote on
construction of a coal-fired power plant will be on the November
ballot, thanks to agreement Monday of the County Commission to take no
action on it.
That allowed the measure to go to the public vote without the
commission actually endorsing it, said Commission Chairman Gary Mason.
"I have no trouble [with] it going to the voters," Mason said.
"That takes the monkey off my back."
The commission validated the citizens' referendum petition, which
had more than the necessary number of signatures, Mason said. The
measure would amend the county's conditional-use permit ordinance to
require voter approval prior to issuing such permits for coal-fired
power plants.
It also would revoke any conditional-use permit issued - specific
language likely to further snarl the long-simmering dispute, because
the county is now considering Sevier Power's permit request as a
planned unit development request, said County Attorney Dale Eyre.
The terminology switch, said coal-plant opponent Elaine Bonavita,
was "a smooth move."
Everybody thought the commission's decision was a victory, said
Bonavita, chairwoman of the Right-to-Vote Committee. "But I must tell
you this: It was a victory clouded in deceit," she said.
" 'Conditional-use permit' is on the ballot, and if they change
the wording, they've pulled a fast one," she said. "We will go to
A planned unit development typically is a residential project that
features relatively dense clusters of houses, which are usually
surrounded by areas of commonly owned open space maintained by a
nonprofit community association. A conditional-use permit is a
variance to allow a project otherwise prevented by zoning.
Mason said the commission always considered the Sevier Power
request to be for a PUD. Right-to-Vote Committee attorney Jeff Owens
says that's not so.
The county previously changed its zoning to allow the power plant.
A lawsuit on that decision is pending, Eyre said. There also is the
matter of SB53, a possibly unconstitutional law passed during this
year's legislative session, which bans voter initiatives on land-use
"SB53 will always be out there," Eyre said. "But unless someone
approaches a court or maybe the attorney general's office, we're not
going to take any action to stop the ballot."
No matter which way the November vote goes, Eyre said, he expects
to go to court.
Sevier Power co-owner Bruce Taylor sounded an ominous note about
the referendum after the commission meeting.
"We do not believe it will get to the vote," he said.

History of the Sevier Power Project

Nevco, a Nevada limited liability corporation with offices in
Bountiful, for seven years has sought to build the Sevier Power
Project near Sigurd, about midway between Richfield and Salina. The
$600 million plant would burn about 940,000 tons of coal per year
using a technology called fluidized bed combustion to produce enough
power for 135,000 homes. As a so-called merchant plant, it would sell
the power on the open market. The Sevier County Commission had four
options Monday: Adopt the petition and put it on the ballot; adopt it
without putting it to the vote; reject it; or take no action, which
means the referendum goes to the ballot if no further action is taken
during the next 30 days.

Coal plant sues to get rid of ballot initiative
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 08/28/2008 12:06:43 AM MDT

Attorneys for Sevier Power Company have sued Sevier County officials to get a citizens' initiative kicked off the ballot. They also seek an expedited decision as ballots have to go to print by mid-September.
"I feel confident the judge will rule in our favor," says Fred Finlinson, a Saratoga Springs attorney representing Sevier Power.
Finlinson notes that the proposed coal-fired power plant falls under the county's planned unit development (PUD) ordinance, not the conditional-use permit (CUP) section of county law.
Last spring, more than 1,500 voters signed petitions provided by Elaine Bonavita's Right To Vote (RTV) committee, specifically targeting Sevier County's conditional use ordinance as it relates to coal-fired power plants.
Known as Proposition 1, the measure would require voter approval before the county can issue conditional-use permits for such facilities. It would also revoke any permits already approved for pending power-plant construction.
"That becomes fairly critical," Finlinson, a former state senator, adds, ''because the conditional use in Sevier County simply doesn't apply to any commercial or industrial development.''
In early July, Sevier County commissioners allowed the initiative over the hotly contested power plant to advance to the ballot - then switched labels and began referring to Sevier Power's CUP request as a PUD.
The switch in terminology means the ballot measure no longer applies, says Finlinson.

RTV's attorney disputes that reasoning.
"This is a conditional-use permit they're seeking. Whether you call it a pig, horse or cow, it is what it is," asserts Jeff Owens, a land-use attorney with the Salt Lake City-based firm of Strong and Hanni.
Owens intends to argue that a recently passed state law, SB53, restricting local initiatives is unconstitutional, a legal battle he said he is eager to fight.
"Our suspicions that they were trying to skirt our initiative are confirmed, and I don't think that will sit well with the people of Sevier County."

New Utah law being put to test
SB53, which took effect in May, limits local initiative and referendum rights pertaining to land-use ordinances and their implementation. While the state Constitution protects those rights, a large body of case law prohibits putting administrative land-use actions to a public vote. In late April, the attorney general's office gave its opinion that courts might strike down the new law. So far, two cases involving SB53 await legal action, including the Sevier Power case and another involving a proposed development in Beaver County.
Sevier subterfuge: County out to foil efforts of its citizens
Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 08/14/2008 07:16:09 PM MDT

It seems that since Sevier County officials failed to keep a citizen initiative that they don't like off the ballot, they're willing to try subterfuge to make the vote meaningless.
At the least, the county attorney and County Commission are engaged in a campaign of aggressive obfuscation apparently aimed at frustrating the democratic right of their constituents to have a voice in determining the county's future health and welfare.
The complicated conflict began when a grass-roots group of citizens objected to construction of the Sevier Power Project near Sigurd. The $600 million plant would burn about 940,000 tons of coal per year and spew CO2 and other pollution over the region.
When the County Commission went ahead and approved the plant anyway, the Right to Vote Committee managed to gather more than enough signatures in just over a week to put the proposal on November's ballot.
Their initiative would stop the power plant by revoking the current permit and requiring that voters approve any conditional-use permit for a coal-fired power plant. The group acted quickly, before a constitutionally suspect state law that bans initiatives and referendums on land-use issues went into effect.
At that point, the County Commission members decided not to object to the voter initiative. Instead, they contrived another tack. The initiative as written amends the "conditional-use permit ordinance." So these public servants labeled the project a "planned-unit development," which requires a different kind of permit. Even if voters approve the initiative, it would not block the Sigurd plant. Cute.
The planned-unit development label is ordinarily applied to residential projects that feature clustered housing and areas of open space. A power plant is no PUD. A conditional-use permit, on the other hand, is a variance to allow a project to go forward in a zone where it would otherwise be prohibited.
Sevier County Attorney Dale Eyre contends that the Sigurd plant was always referred to as a PUD, but an attorney for the citizens group disputes that in a complaint to the Utah Attorney General's Office, and says he has documents referring to a conditional-use permit for the plant. He also says Eyre did not notify the group of the time period when it could contest wording of the initiative.
Even if the county is innocent of skulduggery in this dispute, which seems highly unlikely, it is obviously guilty of standing in the way of citizens exercising their constitutionally protected right to legislate by initiative. That alone pollutes the atmosphere of Sevier County.
Muzzling the people: Legislature should not take lawmaking petitions away
Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 06/15/2008 10:47:56 PM MDT

The Utah Constitution says that two groups can make laws: the
Legislature and the people. The first group is trying to cut the
second group out of the process. That isn't right, and the Utah
Supreme Court should put a stop to it.
This year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 53, which says that
the voters of any county, city or town may not initiate a land use
ordinance or a change in a land use ordinance. That's the right of
initiative we all learned about in school.
For good measure, the Legislature also said that the people may
not require a land use ordinance passed by the local legislative body
(city council or county commission) to be submitted to the voters for
approval before it can take effect. That latter process is called a
This bill, which was passed virtually without opposition in the
Legislature and signed quickly into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman, is an
insult to the plain wording of the Utah Constitution, which reserves
the rights of both initiative and referendum to the people.
In 2002, the Utah Supreme Court commented that "the power of the
Legislature and power of the people to legislate through initiative
and referenda are coequal, coextensive and concurrent and share 'equal
dignity.'" It follows that the Legislature can't take that power away
from the people in defiance of the Utah Constitution.
Why would the Legislature do this? To help developers, of course.
In the delicate balance between private property rights and community
interests, the Legislature is putting its thumb on the scale to favor
Private property rights are a foundation of the republic. But when
one property owner does something that profoundly affects his
neighbors, and their property, there's got to be a balancing process.
That's where local planning and zoning laws come in.
SB53 passed during a bitter fight in Beaver County over the
redevelopment of Elk Meadows Resort into the $3.5 billion Mount Holly
Club. The citizen effort to make that project the subject of a
referendum will provide the test case for SB53 before the Utah Supreme
Court. The outcome of that case also will affect an initiative
petition in Sevier County targeting a proposed 270 megawatt coal-fired
power plant near Sigurd. Both of these projects will have far-reaching
effects on the neighboring communities.
In both fights, the people should have the right to seek a direct
voice at the ballot box, and the Legislature should not be allowed to
muzzle that voice.