Five news grabbing issues anticipated for the 2017 Utah Legislative Session
By Rob Jolley, Lobbyist & Managing Partner with RRJ Consulting
Utah’s legislature continues to place transportation and trucking as a top priority in their discussions during the legislative session. It is anticipated that there will be five noteworthy issues the legislature will discuss during the upcoming session.
Although the gas tax was increased in 2015 and the local distribution of gas tax monies were settled in the November special session, there is still a lot of discussion about transportation.
The primary focus of the upcoming session will be completing projects faster than currently scheduled by UDOT.
1. Transportation Construction Bond
Utah will probably see a bond approved by the legislature in 2017. The amount of the bond will be anywhere from $200 million to $750 million and could be spread out over 3 years.
The concept would be to use the bond proceeds to begin construction sooner on projects that aren’t scheduled to begin for another 2 to 5 years.
Funding these projects with the bond proceeds would also free up money that is not being used for debt service of the bond to fund other identified projects that still do not have any funding sources programmed.
The projects that are being targeted for the bond are projects involving I-15 expansion and roads leading to or from I-15.
2. Increase to Education Funding
Education funding is a perennial issue for the legislature. With the recent success of the Utah Education Association (UEA) in electing their candidates to the state school board, the UEA will likely be more aggressive both publicly and at the legislature.
Their agenda will be an increase to education funding. UEA along with the Democrats will be pushing for a sales tax dedicated to education.
But with the state education fund being the only state revenue that has seen any real growth in recent years, the legislature will be unlikely to increase any taxes for education or anything else out of fear it could slow down the economy and other state revenues.
3. Solar Power
Solar power is likely to be a controversial issue this session. Last session the legislature passed a major piece of legislation for Rocky Mountain Power (RMP). The renewable energy advocates were vigorously opposed to this legislation.
As a result of this legislation Rocky Mountain Power has asked the Public Service Commission for a pricing structure dealing with residential solar and its impact on the Rocky Mountain Power system and other RMP ratepayers/customers that do not use solar energy.
Also, Representative Jeremy Peterson has legislation to get rid of the income tax subsidy going to residential solar. This money comes directly out of the education fund.
In the next fiscal year, it is estimated that $20 million that would have gone to education will instead go to residential solar subsidies.
This issue could likely pit the Utah Education Association against environmentalists, both mainstays of the democratic party voting block.
4. Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana will likely be a hot topic again in 2017.
Senator Vickers will once again have legislation allowing non-THC (no drug-induced high) extracts of marijuana to be used for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription.
However, there are others inside and outside the legislature trying to go farther than Senator Vickers’ legislation.
5. Increased Medicaid Funding/Obamacare
The Democrats will once again push for increased Medicaid funding/Obamacare for the remaining uninsured/underinsured populations of Utah.
This is something both the Senate and House Republican caucuses strongly oppose. It’s likely the Democrats will once again try to make this a public political issue.