Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries initiatives -- Utah County SOS

This post is short (for me). Please read my request for help at the end.

I support both the Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries initiatives. The deadline for signatures for both is April 15th. I also support the citizen initiative process. Local politicians talk the "We the people" talk when dealing with the federal government, but become downright defensive when confronted with that same reality on the state level--that their authority is derived completely from the people they represent.

Article I, Section 2 of the Utah State Constitution.
All political power is inherent in the people;

Article VI, Section 1
of the Utah State Constitution.
(1) The Legislative power of the State shall be vested in:
(a) a Senate and House of Representatives which shall be designated the Legislature of the State of Utah; and
(b) the people of the State of Utah
as provided in Subsection (2).
(2) (a) (i) The legal voters of the State of Utah, in the numbers, under the conditions, in the manner, and within the time provided by statute, may:
(A) initiate any desired legislation and cause it to be submitted to the people for adoption upon a majority vote of those voting
on the legislation, as provided by statute;

State legislators constantly use a false example to make their cause seem just. "California is bad! If we make laws by initiative, we will end up liberal and bankrupt like California! Honest!"

It is faulty, ego-driven logic to argue that passing any citizen initiative will turn Utah into California, yet I have seen this argument both in print and in person from legislators. It's silly, shallow electioneering just like sticking a picture of Ted Kennedy or Barack Obama in a commercial about a political opponent and shouting "Ooga booga!" The legislators should represent us to the best of their ability, not protect their power and act like their wisdom is irreplaceable.

The legislature has exercised their procedural authority to make getting the citizens' voice on the ballot via initiative almost impossible. The signatures of 10% of all Utah voters must be gathered, including 10% out of the individual State Senate Districts. Only widespread active advocacy can succeed.

So here's my point tonight. The head folks at both Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries are necessarily putting on a confident face. With only 2 weeks left until the April 15th deadline (which the legislature arbitrarily moved from June until April in retaliation after the citizens voted down the voucher bill...SB 54 sponsored by a Democratic senator and Republican Kevin Garn in the House), I think the threat of not gathering enough signatures is greater than the threat of initiative opponents knowing which districts to target--they'll know after April 15th anyway.

The difficulty does not lie in the message or the bill itself--it lies in apathy. Most voters have still not heard of either initiative. Not enough of those supportive of the concepts of the initiatives have signed them or volunteered to gather more signatures. I can speak from personal knowledge that the signature totals for both petitions in the Utah County Senate Districts are not going to pass unless more people volunteer to get one packet worth of 20 signatures immediately.

That's my plea. Get a signature packet from either or better yet, both of the initiative organizations, and get 20 signatures in the next week. There are contact people on both websites who can get you signature packets.

Here are the contact links for Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries.

We need fast, low-hanging fruit from every neighborhood in the Senate Districts of Senator Madsen, Stephenson, Valentine, Dayton, Bramble, and Hinkins. There are a lot of people supportive of putting ethics reform and fair political redistricting on the ballot that just need to be asked. If you are politically interested enough to be reading this blog, then you know 10-20 people among your family, friends, and neighbors that would sign the petitions. The active volunteers have already gotten the signatures of their neighbors and are doing the tough stuff door-to-door or standing outside public places. That is rewarding and effective (In my experience, 75-80% of those who will listen to explanations of the initiatives sign.), but slow. 50 people gathering 20 signatures each from their circle of friends is what is needed.

Utah County residents, please just make one phone call to the contact person for the initiatives. Spend a couple hours in the next two weeks and gather 20 signatures. Determine whether inspiration or guilt is more effective in your particular case, and consider me sending you whichever is required. I think both are merited for these causes to improve our state government.


Monday, March 29, 2010

CEU affiliating with USU, UVSC becomes UVU, and the lack of community colleges in Utah's Higher Education system

I'm very, very frustrated that Governor Herbert signed SB 275 into law, but I'll get back to the ethics initiative tomorrow. I just want to write a quick post because of a Tribune editorial dealing with higher education in Utah. This editorial just about catches what I have been feeling since UVSC became UVU a couple years ago. There are pros and cons about increasing the number of universities in the state, but I feel the negative aspects are often ignored.

Utah Valley really did need a university more focused on locals than BYU, but it also needs a community college. University status means increased prestige (everyone around here was and is very excited by the upgrade), increased local opportunities for postgraduate degrees, and the expansion of other professional degree programs. However, it inevitably cuts out some students and the community college focus and brings greater costs as more is offered and more professors are required to teach more diverse and specialized courses. UVU currently has a high number of adjunct professors and graduate students teaching classes and teaches a high number of remedial courses. Tuition for those classes and all classes is going up and there is and will continue to be friction between the old community college mission and the new university mission. Not because either is wrong, but because it's hard to provide both at the same institution.

As the Tribune editorial said, Salt Lake Community College fills an important niche. And "niche" is probably the wrong word when SLCC has the highest enrollment in the state with all of its campuses. I personally know many local students who could benefit from a lower cost alternative to UVU completely focused on teaching.

I support UVU. I think the demand for university level education was there and it fulfills a huge need. What we really need is another community college in Utah Valley to complement UVU. I think such an institution would both attract many students not enrolled in college classes and siphon off some of UVU's huge numbers to a 2-year program more appropriate for their level--which would only help UVU in my opinion, in terms of growth costs and mission. And that's where I have no solutions, only wishful thinking. Where would we possibly scrape up the money to found a new state college when our current higher ed. and K-12 systems are stretched to the breaking point? I just don't know. But I seriously think that is what is needed to meet our community's needs right now, let alone the needs associated with the huge projected population growth in the county in the following decades.

Comments? Suggestions? Creative funding solutions?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Utah County Republican Party made $22,000 of anti-healthcare money, but will use it to fight the ethics reform initiative

The Daily Herald reports that the Utah County GOP made more than $22,000 in donations Tuesday night at the local precinct caucuses. There were record numbers of attendees at most precincts (3-4 times the 2008 total in my precinct), and many were attending their first caucus to express their displeasure at the Washington establishment and the passing of the comprehensive Democrat healthcare bill. Utah County Republican Chair,Taylor Oldroyd, affirmed the same reasoning in the article above:
"It's frustration with what's going on in Washington," Oldroyd said. "The health care debate -- perfect timing for the Republican Party."

That passion was readily channeled into record donations. Unfortunately, if any of those new caucus goers pay attention to what their money will be used for, they will find that a large chunk of that money will not be used on anything remotely related to national healthcare, combatting the Democratic Party, or even Bob Bennett's Senate race. Instead, it will be used to promote and print distortions and untruths about the ethics initiative and those gathering signatures to place it on the ballot. The county and state parties have announced that they will expend resources both to persuade petition signers to remove their names (Ironically, their plan is to use fabricated and misinterpreted "secret" effects of the proposal in order to accuse the signature gathers of deceiving those who signed the petition.) and to campaign against the measure if it makes it onto the ballot in November.

So the party leadership and incumbent legislators will channel the enthusiasm and grassroots energy of these new political participants to protect the position of incumbents, to protect their uncapped source of "no strings attached," multi-thousand dollar donations from lobbyists and special interest groups, and to allow Howard Stephenson to continue to earn his living by advancing his clients' causes in the legislature. National politics makes everyone cynical because everyone hears about it. State and county politics make everyone cynical who is paying attention.

Please go read up on the Utahns for Ethical Government voter initiative. Then use the contact information on the site to sign a physical petition and make a difference.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Utah County GOP ethics purity pledge and false info about the LDS church distributed at caucus meetings

The Tribune reported on the plan of the Utah County Republican Party to require their candidates to sign a form stating whether they had signed the Utahns for Ethical Government voter initiative seeking to put an extensive ethics reform law on the ballot in November. I called it weird in my other headline, but I actually am coming to expect stuff like this from leadership and incumbents protecting their turf. The whole opposition campaign is being approached dishonestly. I hope some brave soul or two will be brave enough to fill out the form and proudly own at the county convention that they signed the ethics initiative as well as the Fair Boundaries initiative. In the article, I underlined the responses of the Republican Party Chairs from Davis and Weber Counties where they explain the initiative is not “against the Republican Party” or a litmus test in their conventions as signatures were even being gather at the caucus meetings.

The Utah County Republican Party anti-ethics offensive extended to distributing a misleading flyer to every single caucus attendee in the valley. It contained similar charges and the web address to this site full of misrepresentations and outright lies about the effects of the ethics initiative, but the caucus flyer was significantly toned down in terms of language. The first false charge, that local leaders of the LDS church will be prevented from running for political office, was couched in the caucus flyer in terms of “some even say it reaches so far as to limit LDS leaders from serving.” The website comes right out and claims the initiative will prevent LDS leaders from running for office. No local LDS leaders such as bishops, stake presidencies, Relief Society presidents, etc. have anything to do with controlling the supposed paid lobbyists employed by the LDS church. Various legislators were offended at times this session when others “misinterpreted” or twisted the words or provisions of their bills to mean things other than what was intended. The incumbent protection crew is now trying to twist the definitions of the initiative to claim horrible collateral damage to freedom and justice. (I will post more in a few days about other false claims made by the website.) It is ironic that they are using untruthful techniques to undermine a bill that they claim will lead to “Those who purposefully make fictitious or groundless complaints…”

The anti-Mormon claim is an intentional ramping up of the GOP’s strategy to persuade people to remove their names from the initiative. They hit the caucus attendees—many of whom were first time attendees this year who knew nothing about the current initiatives or history of ethics reform battles in the legislature—with an opening salvo. If the initiative gathers enough signatures by April 15th, the county and state GOP will be contacting those who signed, especially registered Republicans, and telling them they were tricked by those dishonest volunteer signature gatherers who didn’t tell them that this was an anti-Mormon attempt to allow liberals to take over the legislature. They will use the time granted by the unequal bill, SB 275, allowing them to run a signature removal campaign for one extra month after the required signatures are due to the county clerks.

The Utah legislative leadership and some Republican Party leadership are using dishonest arguments to derail a citizen initiative on ethics. In the last two years, they moved the signature gathering deadline from June 1st to April 15th claiming the clerks were overburdened, then showed that to be a false rationale by giving citizen initiative opponents (naturally the establishment since citizen initiatives are attempting to bypass the legislature) an extra month to try and convince initiative signers to have their signature removed. But, please… please… think of the poor clerks. Read the bills, read the legislature’s claims, read the websites of the initiatives themselves, and I think you will see the sad irony as the legislature proves its need for outside action through its own campaign to resist far-reaching ethics reform.

Tribune article on weird Utah County Republican plan to screen out candidates who support the ethics initiative


Utah County GOP wants candidates to declare stand on ethics initiative
Politics » Initiative official says, 'Ethics reform is a nonpartisan issue.'

By Cathy McKitrick

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 03/24/2010 08:17:44 PM MDT

Utah County Republican leaders will ask each of their party candidates next week to fill out a form disclosing whether they signed petitions for a pending ethics reform initiative in what some view as an odd type of pre-election screening.

The expansive initiative, sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government, served as the goad for lawmakers to pass several bills in the recent 45-day session, including legislation to form the state's first independent ethics commission.

But GOP legislators and the state Republican Party criticize the initiative as over-reaching and poorly drafted.

"We've already decided that as a party we oppose the [UEG] initiative," said Utah County GOP Chairman Taylor Oldroyd. "So we're asking candidates to declare one way or the other."

The candidate form also asks candidates to pledge to support only Republicans running for office and, if elected, to maintain the highest standards of honesty, morality and integrity.

After a question about which, if any, parts of the party platform the hopeful disagrees with, the form inquires whether the candidate is a supporter of the ethics initiative.

The information will be tabulated in time for the county's April 24 convention, where delegates will cast votes to thin races with multiple contenders.

"There's a few that have a different opinion and that's fine," Oldroyd said. "We just feel the voters and delegates need to know."

So what if a candidate skips the declaration?

"There is no punishment for not signing, but delegates and voters may not view this favorably," Oldroyd said in an e-mail to The Salt Lake Tribune .

Dixie Huefner, UEG's communication director, puzzled over Utah County GOP's new requirement.

"It seems to be inconsistent with Republican values of freedom, choice and liberty," Huefner said. "I don't understand the narrowness of their view since ethics reform is a nonpartisan issue."

In Davis County -- as heavily Republican as Utah County -- candidates will not have to divulge their support or opposition to the ethics initiative.

"We just require that they register as a Republican," said Davis County GOP Chairwoman Shirley Bouwhuis.

"The initiative hasn't even come up here," Bouwhuis added. "Unless it's something against the Republican Party, we believe in freedom of choice."

Weber County Republicans also make no such inquiry of candidates.

"Absolutely not," said Weber GOP Chairman Matt Bell, noting that someone was gathering initiative signatures at his crowded caucus meeting Tuesday night.

"That's Utah County," Bell said. "They can do whatever they want."

Ethics legislation versus initiative

The citizens' initiative would create an independent ethics commission that holds an open hearing on any non-frivolous complaint. The Legislature's new panel conducts the entire screening process behind closed doors.

The initiative allows any three individuals to file an ethics complaint against a lawmaker. The new law allows two residents to lodge a complaint, but at least one must have firsthand knowledge of the alleged violation.

The initiative contains campaign caps. Utah is now one of four states lacking such limits.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Utah County GOP pushing for new speaker?

If you haven't seen the debate raging about the ridiculous standing ovation for Kevin Garn orchestrated by Dave Clark, here are some refreshers:

Standard Examiner

Daily Herald

And Holly on the Hill, whom I usually feel just repeats the party line, really hit the nail on the head in some great posts about Dave Clark and the legislature as a whole.
Here, here, and here.

As always, politics quickly resume after crisis. Brad Dee has already made it know he wants to be majority leader, but that's not the biggest political prize up for grabs. Dave Clark really screwed up with the "We want you back" and floating the idea for a couple days of Garn continuing in office. I think his being forced out as Speaker of the House is a real possibility when the House caucus huddles tonight and assigns blame.

Revealing quotes from this last link:

“I’m talking to folks afterward. They didn’t know [that she was underage]. They didn’t know they were naked, that he was married,” Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, said of information learned later about Garn’s history. “When the Speaker stands up, you know, you stand up. That’s habit. Then it’s ‘What are we doing?’ ”

He said allowing the admission with a room full of people was manipulative.

“I feel like we were used as a prop to lend credence to the admission,” Dougall said.

I agree they were used as a prop, but that culture of unswerving support and good ol' boy network is why we need ethics reform--not necessarily this one instance of Garn's misdeeds.

People need to understand the culture. We clap a lot,” said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who is also unhappy about the confession on the floor but was among the first to stand and applaud.

“You’ve got two minutes to process the information,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been done on the floor. I think everyone is in agreement with that. We were put in an awkward situation. What were we supposed to do?

How about show some of that same supposed spine you trumpeted in your "principled" crusade against the federal government Mr. Founding-Member-of-the-Patrick-Henry-Caucus? You'll attack nationally, but you will support a fellow state leader to the death, until your own conservative blogger, Holly Richardson, slaps you in the face and makes you realize this may affect your secure Republican position.

To quote the conclusion of my last post detailing the lack of principled governance about a specific bill:
I think this perspective helps better understand Dave Clark's comments about wanting Kevin Garn "back with us" and the standing ovation he received. Too many legislators instinctively and instantly rally to their own little club and defend it against all outsiders. Sign the voter initiatives for Fair Boundaries and ethics reform and take a larger step toward limiting conflicts of interest and money in our state legislature.

I sense in Holly's post and the Daily Herald editorial a push for some Utah County leadership and the Utah County legislators are being vocal about Clark embarrassing them and the legislature as a whole. Is the campaign on for a Utah County speaker?

Greg Hughes and Rebecca Lockhart were the most common Speaker Pro Tem's I saw during the session, but Hughes is more damaged than most by the Garn confession because he was one of the first teary huggers on the House floor. Brad Dee and Lockhart are the next two in line in House GOP leadership. Will Dee keep his claim staked on House Majority Leader, or eye the bigger prize? The Utah County contingent appear to be making a push for Lockhart or Dougall for speaker.

Think about that, and then go sign the ethics initiative petition.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SB 188, Howard Stephenson sneaks provision into charter school bill specifically allowing conflicts of interest

At the end of my budget post last week, I mentioned that I generally have no beef with charter schools, but that I have problems with legislators using them for financial gain. Howard Stephenson sponsored a bill that could possibly reap direct financial benefits for sitting legislators and other influential GOP insiders on charter school boards. The most ethical full-time lobbyist on the hill--so ethical that he can earn his substantial living by being paid to advocate for laws that benefit his secret clients--yet NOT have any important conflicts of interest as a legislator, pushed this bill which dealt with another substantial policy issue, removing the cap on charter school enrollment.

SB 188. The frustrating part is that those in charge of acting as gatekeepers were asleep at the wheel. The executive summary of the bill mentions on Line 20 that it "modifies conflict of interest provisions applicable to charter school officers."

Click on the link above and then listen to the file, Senate Education Committee 2/24, of the Senate Education Committee hearing for the bill. The relevant sections are about 17-18 minutes long, but the relevant part to this post is only about a minute and 5 seconds long, from 4:00 minutes into the audio to 5:05. Senator Stephenson has a staff lady basically read the executive summary and explain it to the committee, and she explains the basics of allowing conflicts of interest in that minute. Following this, the State Superintendent of Public Schools, Larry Shumway, (whom I generally like and applaud for his ability to work with legislators), some State Charter School Board members, and the legislators get sidetracked off onto a minor issue: whether the new non-voting member of the State School Board should be called a delegate instead of a non-voting member. They chew on this over and over and never even talk about the principal issue of the bill, whether the enrollment cap should be lifted, let alone the conflict of interest provisions or committee to review charter school loan requests. I have reservations about lifting the cap purely because of funding considerations, but charter schools are serving a lot of children well.

Next, you can click on the link to the floor debate in the Senate (scroll down to near the bottom of Part 2 and look for SB 188). It's 12 minutes long with another minute for voting. I watched the video; I'm assuming the audio is the same length. Once again, Senator Stephenson gives the short explanation of the conflict of interest provision from 1:35 to 1:57. The Senate debates about the "non-voting delegate" amendment for the majority of the time and the bill passes without one question being asked about the other provisions. Does no Senator see any problem with this?! Now I can understand that possibly this was dealt with extensively in interim, but I know all of the legislators who talk so much about poorly informed people signing voting initiatives did not read this bill. I don't think Senator Stephenson was even very familiar with it in committee. They just trust each other because they are all so trustworthy and stuff. I blogged about this last year as well.

Now to the floor debate in the House (The SB 188 video is about halfway through Part 2). At first I was happy with Representative Lockhart's presentation. She first moves a technical amendment. From about 1:30 to 2:30, she gives a much better summary of SB 188. She focuses on the change in the charter school enrollment cap and lists some other provisions. However, she curiously omits both the conflict of interest change and and the new non-voting member of the State School Board that the first two debates fixated upon. Representatives Allen and Cosgrove at least ask some questions about other sections of the bill. Small little bravo as it is also obvious they are not familiar with the bill and haven't read it. No one else asks a question. At about 6:30, Speaker of the House, Dave Clark, says there are no other questions and turns the bill over to Rep. Lockhart for final summation. At this point, when debate has been cut off, she mentions those last two items she omitted from her initial explanation. At 6:35, she brings up the new position on the State School Board. From 7:00 to 7:17 she "explains" the conflict of interest provisions. Here's my rough transcription:
"And then there's also at the end of the bill some issues having to do with members of charter school boards and potential conflicts of interest and how they deal with those conflicts of interest as it relates to their individual schools."
Whether on purpose or not, this is a dishonest description. The relevant part of the bill is on lines 270-282. The original text of that section of law read:
A charter school officer or a relative of a charter school officer may not have a financial interest in a contract or other transaction involving a charter school in which the charter school officer serves as a charter school officer.
There was NO potential for conflicts of interest. The new bill text reads as follows (The underlined parts represent the additions or changes being made to the current law.):
270 (3) (a) [A] Except as provided in Subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c), a charter school officer
271 or a relative of a charter school officer may not have a financial interest in a contract or other
272 transaction involving a charter school in which the charter school officer serves as a charter
273 school officer.
274 (b) If a charter school's governing board considers entering into a contract or executing
275 a transaction in which a charter school officer or a relative of a charter school officer has a
financial interest, the charter school officer shall:
277 (i) disclose the financial interest, in writing, to the other charter school officers;
278 (ii) submit the contract or transaction decision to the charter school's governing board
279 for the approval, by majority vote, of the charter school's governing board;
280 (iii) abstain from voting on the issue; and
281 (iv) be absent from any meeting when the contract or transaction is being considered
282 and determined.
The bill doesn't "deal" with potential conflicts of interest; it puts them into code!! The board members of a charter school used to not be able to make money off of the school, and now they can. OK, they can't be part of the meetings to decide. But did any legislator think about what it would be like to work closely in a policy group (like the legislature or a charter school board--management being respectively the executive branch and the school administration) with someone who provides a service, omit them from a meeting on purchasing that service, and then have to tell them at the next meeting that their company did not provide as good a service as a competitor? They didn't think there would be any undue pressure there? They honestly thought this was a section of code that needed changing to better serve the charter school students of Utah? Or did they even know about it?

Following this non-explanation, Speaker Clark immediately opened the unanimous voting in favor of the bill.

Did no one in the House even read the executive summary?! Even if Rep. Lockhart didn't bring it up until it was too late to comment on it, was no one curious about the conflict of interest section? Couldn't that provision have been easily amended out, leaving the actual meat of the bill? Let's place unprovable bets on what percentage of the legislators in both houses had read the bill at this point. I would feel confident saying under 10%.

The Trib's education reporter, Lisa Schencker, who does a sporadic job of in-depth coverage as opposed to the other papers who only cover controversial school legislation, covered the story both in committee and after final passage. She reported the main point about the removal of the charter school enrollment cap, but just got a quote from Stephenson the first time, repeated it the second time, and didn't dig any deeper.

I'd love to hear any justification for allowing conflicts of interest at public charter schools. I'm serious. Is there some wonderful service out there currently not being provided to the charter school students that some charter school board member will now provide? Is this wonderful service worth allowing someone's close colleagues to vote on whether he/she personally profits from their position of influence at a charter school? Who thinks Senator Stephenson knows at least one person by name who just happens to be a legislator or GOP donor and will immediately profit from this bill? Maybe even someone who contributes secretly to the Utah Taxpayer's Association?

1. So, please be angry at the end result of a tiny section of this bill expressly permitting conflicts of interest in charter school board expenditures.

2. Please be angry at the lack of review given this bill through a committee hearing and three separate floor hearings. There were a total of two questions asked not about the member/delegate semantics debate. This criticism does not just include legislators, but education representatives, including Superintendent Shumway.

3. And really think about the broader issue this one example represents of how the legislature works. A registered corporate lobbyist with secret clients sits as a Senator in our state legislature. He has frequently misrepresented his bills in committee and floor presentations (Example 2009, Example 2008) and abused legislative process (Example 2010) in order to push his pro-corporate, anti-school, money-making agenda.

This same Senator passed a bill, SB 275, allowing voter initiative proponents--almost exclusively establishment Republicans who oppose sharing power--to have an extra month to go door-to-door claiming that "deceptive signature-gathering practices" result in "lemon laws." He and the rest of the legislative leadership claim that no one is reading the initiative due to "half-truths and misrepresentations" and they don't know about the secret, horrible provisions that are unfair to the virtuous legislators.

Think about this post and think about their position. Be angry that the legislators reflexively trust each other and excuse their repeated lack of proper review of laws (Self-admitted example from 2007--this link is to a really long post full of great examples and quotes, relating both to bad legislative decisions and their attack on voter initiatives and referendums. It's worth the read.) while constantly insulting the public who are easily fooled by "hucksters."

I think this perspective helps better understand Dave Clark's comments about wanting Kevin Garn "back with us" and the standing ovation he received. Too many legislators instinctively and instantly rally to their own little club and defend it against all outsiders. Sign the voter initiatives for Fair Boundaries and ethics reform and take a larger step toward limiting conflicts of interest and money in our state legislature.

Junk Mail

OK, an easy post to get me going. I received a call from that national group giving the anti-Bennett push poll a couple weeks ago. It was fun and easy. The peon phone survey person seemed surprised that I was not supporting Bennett and already knew when and where my caucus meeting will be. I thought about telling them despite my agreement with the general premise of the poll, I thought the wording was biased and dumb...but figured it wouldn't make a difference anyway.

Then I got a glossy, 2-sided, color ad from Energy Solutions telling me that if I only listened to their science, I would support blended nuclear waste, international waste, and DU coming into my state. They also are regulated by lots of organizations they claim and are not determined to ignore Governor Herbert by bringing in that diverted DU in a few months.

Then just yesterday, I got THREE exciting pieces of political waste. First, a glossy color card from Bennett all about he alone has held off the onslaught of Obama's socialized medicine. Very noble. And a great, but very amusing photo of some doctor from Draper with a manic grin. I think he will get ribbing from his neighbors for that photo.

Second, a big glossy poster from Mike Lee with flags, the capital dome, kids at a playground, kid holding flag and mom's hand, and Mike's big mug. His big mailer had one other feature which I appreciated, but sadly think will be wasted on the masses. It had tons and tons of text. I've heard him speak in person and admit that I didn't read all of it, but I actually appreciate it. I want documentation of what a politician believes or promises. I'm sick of soundbites. But, the sad part is that my first thought upon unfolding the mailer was that no one was going to read all this. Oh well.

And finally, ANOTHER letter from Bennett. In this non-color, regular letter, I learned that all the cool mayors are voting for Bennett and I should too. Oooooh, Tom Dolan is supporting Bennett. I better change my attitude.

I'm hoping for at least two a day in the next ten days leading up to caucus meetings. I should get a scanner.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Budget debate resolves...Bravo Gary Herbert and Ron Bigelow! Carl Wimmer tries reverse psychology...

The budget battle over Howard Stephenson's mini-omnibus policy insert at the last second finally resolved late Thursday night. Charter school funding is still a difficult issue to which I don't have the answers, and good legislative process is important to me whether I agree with a bill or not.

One thing I am pleasantly surprised but also confused by is the increase of WPU back up to current levels...along with the explanation that the state is still not funding growth. There's something I'm not quite getting. The original plan was for the WPU to go down about $90. Each new or continuing student would receive the same funding, but a lesser amount than last year to reflect the higher numbers caused by growth. If each student next year is funded $2577 via WPU, then districts will receive increased funding for each new student...or in other words, the growth in student numbers will be funded. Lisa Schenker reported above that "Districts will absorb that lack of funds in other areas." The principal state funding mechanism to the districts is the WPU. I don't understand which state expenditures the districts can cut millions of dollars from without impacting WPU.

Bravo to Gary Herbert and Ron Bigelow, as well as most of the House, for their firm roles in preventing any last minute strong-arming by the legislators who were valuing their pet project over transparency and rational policy discussion. Rep. Bigelow gave us the "telling it like it is" quote of the debate: "If there is any bill in this session that has subverted, bypassed and held our process to be the worst process, it is this bill."

Howard Stephenson cleverly, but falsely framed the debate in two ways in order to spin things his way. First, I explained in my last post why his "phantom student" argument, a new tactic this year, is a fundamental lie in dealing with locally assessed property tax. The district does not have significant marginal costs when adding or losing an individual student; property tax funds are not distributed per student. Stephenson repeated this meme several times.

Second, Stephenson claimed that there is money going to districts when students leave for a charter school that would otherwise go into WPU (the main state funding mechanism), and that's why it's important to shift some of the local money. Unless Senator Stephenson is talking about some obscure pot of money somewhere that only he knows about, that just isn't true. State funds are distributed per student via the WPU. For each student, the district gets the designated amount of money. Local property tax is voted on by the residents of a specific geographical area and then spent on overall programs which benefit large numbers of students at once. At no point does it follow around individual students; at no point are there "phantom students" as students move in and out of the district; and at no point can these locally approved funds be diverted into the statewide fund for WPU allotments. So what is Senator Stephenson talking about?

The bill bounced back and forth several times as the Senate would not agree to have the charter school funding changes deleted from the bill. To listen to the first debate Thursday morning when the House substituted the bill and took out the charter funding change, click here. (This is a list of the debates on all the bills that morning. The easiest way to find this debate is to scroll down to the Part 2 subheading, and then count 9 links above it to the SB0002S01 debate.) You can listen to or watch the conversation--I think watching often makes it easier to understand who is talking. Here are the highlights to pay attention to and the time in the debate they happen:

Rep. Bigelow gives an excellent 4-5 minute summation of the procedural and policy concerns with the original bill while proposing the substitute bill. He also explains the inherent difficulties of applying local funds to charter schools and how the substitute bill reflects the work of the education subcommittees.

Rep. Craig Frank declares his willingness to take care of pet charter school funding via bad process. "This year is the time" regardless of whether my colleague purposely prevented the proposal from being vetted.

The weirdest comment of the debate. Rep. Carl Wimmer stood and disagreed on the substitute based on "process." He wasn't necessarily voting because of the content of the bill, but the "process." He then claimed that Stephenson's original 16-hour-old bill has been vetted, but the "changes" in the substitute dating back to the education subcommittee's recommendations had not been. Therefore, black is white, up is down, and he voted against the substitute bill.

This is the money quote from above by Ron Bigelow. He acknowledged Wimmer's outspoken concern for process and then declared "If there is any bill in this session that has subverted, bypassed and held our process to be the worst process, it is this bill."

The motion to substitute passed a few minutes later by a count of something close to 50 yeas to 20 nay votes. The substituted bill then passed 71-4.

After Gary Herbert personally aided a compromise which took out the "monkey wrench" of the surprise charter funding, a final substitute bill was agreed upon and passed Thursday night by both houses. I didn't have time to fully comprehend the different changes in this substitute bill, but it appeared to be very reasonable upon first inspection.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Education Budget

If someone had asked me a couple months ago what I thought the chances were that I wouldn't blog about this year's legislative session until the 2nd to last day, I would have replied "About the same as the Jazz signing a guy named Sundiata AND a guy named Othyus this year..." Oh well. As always, I hope to blog about some stuff that I saw, but we'll see. I have some things to do, and I realized today that I fell in the same trap as David. It's hard to be both a consistent blogger and balanced otherwise, but once I fall off the wagon, sitting down and composing a thought or argument that I'm happy with becomes more daunting. Then it just becomes easier to follow the session and occasionally stew about it, rather than really buckle down and compose my thoughts.

I was fairly happy with the education budget. Before I criticize him, even Howard Stephenson stepped up early in the session. In this video (which you now can't access unless you're willing to pay well-to-do Republican lobbyist/shill, LaVarr Webb, even more money. I'm not, but I bet a lot of blog regulars are still subscribed to UPD.), he explained to a policy group that a proposed 5% cut on top of not funding growth was actually going to be an 8% cut. And he was even willing to publicly disagree with his red meat buddy, Greg Hughes, when he fought for preserving as much as possible the base WPU budget that hires teachers to keep class size down. I agree with his stated position that the programs are peripheral to this.

Public Education will not receive funding for the approximately 11,000 new students entering the system next year, which depending on which article you read, ends up being a 3 to 4% cut in funding as the new students are absorbed into the existing budget. Then last week, the Senate Republican Caucus decided public ed. needed to share more of the pain and proposed a further 1% cut. It looks like Stephenson's view prevailed, and the programs mentioned in the KCPW article were the principal ones on the chopping block as the budget debate continued. Finally, it appeared that a compromise was reached between the House, Senate, and Governor Herbert to cut only $10 million, or about 1/2 a percent from the budget. I frankly think this is reasonable given the circumstances and was happy with the result. As much as I believe cuts in school nurse funds or having no new library books will hurt next year, I think they are very much preferable to further increasing our class sizes which are already going to increase next year.

That hard fought compromise was upset again when Stephenson slipped in a last minute rider to the budget bill, SB 2--a defeated concept from 2 years ago year, making districts pay more for the education of charter schools students within their boundaries.

Now this is where I really have problems with Stephenson, independent of the concept of the charter school funding shift which I also strongly disagree with. He himself has sponsored anti-federal resolutions this year and decried the lack of transparency in decisions made by Congress. I happen to agree that the backroom meetings, earmarks, and constant vote-buying in Washington are wrong. But Stephenson turns around and proposes a HUGE change in charter school funding that he knows is controversial, and he does it on the second to last day of the session by attaching the change as a parasite to a budget compromise bill arrived at after extensive negotiation. This however, is becoming a standard tactic for Stephenson and charter school funding. The original attempt to shift charter school funding to districts was part of Stephenson's SB 2 in 2008, the omnibus bill, which also was first debated on the 2nd to last day of the session. I guess that makes this year's SB 2 the "minibus bill", smaller and just as ugly. This planned attack was no last minute priority that popped up. Stephenson could have run a charter funding bill and put this through the process just like anything else, but he purposely waited until the last minute to try and ramrod it through. It is dishonest and hypocritical. I have pointed out Stephenson's and other legislators' hypocrisy on this score in the past--they hate hardball tactics and procedural games when someone else does it, but the end justifies the means when it comes to their own pet proposals. Margaret Dayton, an even more strident critic of government interference, also tried to slip her defeated SB 77 into the bill as an amendment. Just because it's allowed doesn't mean it's ethical Senators!

As to Senator Stephenson's rationale for the charter funding changes, I believe he is very disingenuous with his phantom student explanation on the Senate Site. State funds are distributed from state income tax revenues to districts on a per student basis called the WPU. Lose a student, lose the allotment of WPU. Those funds are already given to each charter school and are not the subject of this change and Stephenson knows it. Local property taxes, in contrast, apply only to the residents of a specific school district and are implemented after a vote by those residents in a general election. They are collected to fund specific building projects or as a certain percentage to fund local schools, and make up a chunk of each district's funding over and beyond WPU. Local education property taxes are not collected by nor distributed via the specific number of students. They pay for the general program of classrooms and teachers, and a specific allotment is not saved or spent when a student leaves or enrolls in the district. You can use a blunt fraction to say that there is so much more money per student when a student leaves to a charter school, but claiming that "we are funding phantom students" or that this is some huge "bonus" when a student leaves is willfully deceitful. It is not the same formula as money coming in from the state.

Since the charter boards are not made of publicly elected officials and do not represent geographic areas that could hold a vote, they do not have the power to assess these local taxes. The difference in how much local property tax is coming in is the center of the debate between Canyons and Jordan Districts and one of the fundamental difficulties with funding charter schools. The state has eased that burden for charter schools in the past by sending Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT funds), to help them have more to spend beyond WPU.

So the true wording of Stephenson's analogy should be "We authorized charter schools as individual districts within a district, but without publicly elected officials or natural constituencies. Their lack of ability to raise local funds has demonstrated the deficiency of state funding when trying to run even a pared down school lacking common facilities such as gymnasiums, auditoriums, or grounds to play soccer. We want to allow these non-elected bodies to access funds the voters approved at the ballot box for their local public school districts. We fabricated "phantom students" in order to justify this "phantom funding" to schools without accountability to our locally elected school board." (To be clear, I have no problem with charter schools themselves. I just hate that the legislature sets public ed. districts and public charter schools against each other and worry about funding problems. Well, I also have problems with the attitudes of some legislators who profit from charter schools. More on that in another post.)