In her opening remarks, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, starting her third year leading that body, really laid into Congress (and by inference, Utah’s five members there) for failing the American people.
At one point, Lockhart wondered whether it really has made much difference that Utah state government has so wisely taxed its citizens and carefully crafted balanced budgets year after year – a record that has led Utah to be one of the best managed states in the nation – when trillion-dollar federal deficits and unrelenting federal mandates are driving all states, including Utah, into very difficult financial times.
In warning about federal health insurance issues, Lockhart perhaps pointed a finger at former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, who with some other well-known Utahns who were in his state administration makes a living as an Obamacare/health care consultant.
In a pre-legislative seminar last week sponsored in part by UtahPolicy Daily, Leavitt said Utah lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert should be very careful before deciding to throw aside the state’s health care exchange, Avenue H, and turn over total control to federal Health and Human Services Department officials the expansion of Medicaid and a federal health care exchange in Utah.
Leavitt served as HHS secretary during the George W. Bush administration, before returning to Utah to set up Leavitt Partners.
Lockhart has been vocal in saying the Legislature should have nothing to do with a federal health care exchange here, part of Obamacare.
She warned Monday that you can’t trust the federal officials to be a “partner” in anything – as they would be if Avenue H is modified to meet the federal exchange requirements but kept as a state-run exchange.
Rather, the federal bureaucrats will only dictate to state health officials how Avenue H must be run, and could bring ruin to health care in our state.
Lockhart said federal officials will order Utahns to rebuild Avenue H, all while “picking our pockets.”
Those who believe otherwise, she said, are either “deliberatively ignoring reality” or “are in (health care reform) for the money.” You can read about what Leavitt Partners does here.
Avenue H faces the threat of it being moved away from a free market plan to a “single payer gateway,” she said.
The 2013 Legislature must be careful, she added, not to follow the money-printing pattern of Congress and greedily listen to the “siren song” of free federal cash.
In fact, Utah gets more than 30 percent of its funds from the federal government now.
And as reported in UtahPolicy on Monday, Utah lawmakers will likely have to patch together some kind of “balanced” budget before adjournment March 14, only to come back later this year to readjust the 2013-2014 spending plan after Congress finally decides what federal money cuts will be coming to states this year.
She said the real challenge legislators must face now and in the near future is to wean itself from these federal funds, and find innovative ways of replacing that money. For only then can Utah deal with the falloff in federal cash that must certainly be coming as the federal debt is addressed in some form.
Lockhart added that last session passed 400 new laws, adding more than 200 pages to the Utah Code. Do we really want to do that again? She asked.
While a few House members applauded, others – who my have dozens of bills in the works – sat quietly smiling at her.
Sitting his first time as Senate president, Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, told his colleagues Monday morning to “focus on the right and good.”
A certified public accountant, Niederhauser said some people believe “you can create money out of thin air” – like the Federal Reserve does by purchasing treasury notes.
“One day this checking account must be covered – it is natural law.”
Some GOP leaders Monday told UtahPolicy they would have preferred that no gun bills be introduced this year – take kind of a waiting period after the terrible deaths of 20 school children and six adults in the Connecticut school in December.
However a number of gun bill files have been opened.
House leaders told UtahPolicy that they hope the bills will be numbered and ready to go early in the 45-day session – if not in the first week then in the second.
The idea is to handle them together at the same time both in committee and in floor debate.
“We don’t want gun bills dribbling out (for debate and perhaps media coverage) all during the session,” said one GOP leader.
A number of the bills this leader believes “are of a pre-emptive strike nature, if you will, to what we’re seeing coming out of the (President Barack Obama) administration in Washington.”
It’s not unusual for leaders to lump similar controversial bills together in the public hearing/lawmaker voting process.
That not only provides context in debate, but also gets them out of the way early in a general session so lawmakers can concentrate on budgeting and other matters in the final days before adjournment.
Lawmakers got right down to business, holding some standing committee hearings later Monday on bills that were pre-assigned by the individual bodies’ Rules Committees.