The Utah Legislature Interim Committees study key issues facing the state, hear public comment and recommend legislation for the upcoming session. Unlike during the general session, when the Senate and House each have standing committees comprised of only their own members, interim committees are made up of both senators and representatives. Several issues studied in the May 2019 Interim meetings of interest to Farm Bureau farm and ranch members include:
Due to Utah’s rapidly growing population and shifting demographics, there are increasing demands on the General Fund and other programs funded by sales tax. Because of shifts in the economy, growth in sales tax revenue is not keeping up with the needs of our growing state. Programs funded by the collection of sales tax include: air quality, Medicaid, transportation, public safety, recreation, support for children, disabled and the elderly, homelessness and affordable housing. The demand for public services continues to rise. Between 2010 and 2018, Utah’s population grew nearly 400,000, or 14.4%.
As possible solutions, Utah legislators are looking at tax credits, incentives and exemptions, which directly impact Utah farmers and ranchers. Additional possible solutions include: new/increased user fees, taxing water, local government tax structure, property tax, restructure how public education is funded from the income tax and tax penalties.
Gas and electric power markets have been undergoing transitions from monopoly utility providers to competitive markets for several decades. A series of federal government initiatives, beginning with the 1978 Natural Gas Policy Act, allowed market forces to determine how and at what prices natural gas is purchased. Large energy users in most states, including Utah, can now purchase natural gas directly from suppliers of their choice at competitive market prices. Competitive natural gas markets are saving Utah companies millions of dollars in energy costs today.
The federal government and many state governments, including Utah, have similarly pursued initiatives designed to encourage development of wholesale and retail electric power markets throughout much of the country. For large Utah energy users, the lack of retail access to competitive market forces in the power sector negatively impacts their ability to compete in regional, national and global markets into which they sell their goods and services. The agriculture industry is considered a large user of energy.
Utah Senate Confirmations
One of the many duties of Utah State senators is to review and approve nominations for vacant public positions such as judges, council members, board members, commissioners, etc. made by the governor. On May 15, 2019 (Interim), the Senate confirmed Brian Steed as Utah’s Director of Natural Resources (DNR) and Kerry Gibson as Commissioner of Utah’s Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). Both positions are cabinet-level executive positions in the Utah state government.
As of May 13, 2019, Utah’s Division of Water Resources reported the following reservoir levels: Bear Lake (74%), Pineview (75%), Echo (73%), Deer Creek (98%), Strawberry (81%), Starvation (84%), Utah Lake (78%), Scofield (41%), Joe’s Valley (39%), Piute (68%), Gunlock (100%), Lake Powell (39%).