Vickers speaks on state budget, lingering issues as Legislature enters final week

Sen. Evan Vickers, Republican, District 28, Cedar City, Utah | Image by St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – As the Utah Legislature enters its final week, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, updated constituents on items relating to the state budget Friday, as well as lingering issues left to be wrapped up by the legislative session’s end.

State budget

“Only a few days left in the Utah Legislative session, and there are still a number of very important issues to be decided,” Vickers said Friday in email sent out to the media. “We received the preliminary budget numbers Thursday night, and there will be some changes between now and the end of the session, but for the most part the budget is finished.”

Highlighted items include:

  • State employees will receive a 3 percent salary increase.
  • Higher education employees will receive a 2 percent salary increase.
  • The weighted pupil unit, or WPU – the basic funding mechanism for public education – will be increased by 4 percent, with another 2 percent funding new students coming into the system.
  • The Utah Summer Games will receive $50,000.
  • Tuacahn will receive $200,000 for a theater expansion.
  • The Business Resource Centers in Cedar City and St. George will receive funding to stay open.
  • Youth receiving centers in St. George and Cedar City will receive additional funding.
  • Dixie Applied Technology College will get $30.5 million to construct a new building in St. George.
  • The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts program will receive additional funding.

“I am still working on funding to implement the state prairie dog program, the need for which comes from the court ruling in favor of (People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners) this past November,” Vickers said.

Medicaid expansion

“What to do with Medicaid has not yet been solved,” Vickers said.

As previously reported, Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan passed the Senate but died in the House. Initially, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said there wasn’t enough support for the bill to bother bringing it to committee. However, the bill was ultimately heard by the House Business and Labor Committee, where it failed to advance in a 9-4 vote.

Read more: Trouble for Healthy Utah: Committee votes in favor of opposing ‘Utah Cares’ proposal

Concerning House Bill 446, also called “Utah Cares,” a competing bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, Vickers said:

This plan would not be a Medicaid expansion, and would not use any new money from the federal health plan or ObamaCare, but would work under our existing Medicaid rules. The cost would be more expensive than Healthy Utah for the first two years, but it would give the state more flexibility and it would not be a pilot program requiring a larger payout in later years.

Vickers voted against the Healthy Utah plan when it passed through the Senate.

Senate Bill 259: Medical marijuana

“This is a very controversial topic, with some very much in favor and some very much opposed,” Vickers said. “The bill came out late in the session and has not had much public input, however, in my opinion, the bill is poorly structured.”

Read more: On the EDge: Medicinal cannabis moves a step closer to legalization in Utah … yes, Utah

Vickers said he didn’t believe the bill gave the state enough oversight over the production, sale and prescribing of medical marijuana. It also allows former felons to be involved in the potential enterprise, he said.

Though it passed the Senate last week during a second reading, Vickers voted against the measure.

State gas tax

“No consensus has been reached on transportation funding and/or gas tax increases,” Vickers said. “There are still two main proposals being discussed that have varying components in them.”

The state faces an $11 billion shortfall in transportation infrastructure funding in the coming years, and the Legislature is looking for ways to help alleviate that.

One of two bills being discussed in the Legislature on this matter is Senate Bill 160, which would raise taxes on gas and diesel fuels to 10 cents and 5 cents per gallon, respectively. Vickers voted in favor of this measure.

The other proposed measure is House Bill 362, which passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on March 3 in a 9-3 vote. This bill would put a wholesale percentage tax on gasoline and also allow counties to raise sales tax on gas by 0.25 percent via public referendum for local needs.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

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