Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Another Special Session Coming

bernick mugLook for a third special legislative session this fall to settle an unintended windfall to rural counties’ newly-installed gasoline tax increase, various sources tell UtahPolicy.

Lawmakers were called into a special session back in the spring to pass several bills to avoid a veto override session, including allowing for a special tax-break deal for a huge Facebook data center.

That Facebook agreement seems to be falling apart, as Salt Lake County officials oppose it as too generous.

Lawmakers came into another special session in July. But the transportation funding changes weren’t ready to be dealt with then, sources tell UtahPolicy.

The fall session depends on an agreement, Capitol Hill sources say, between the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities, the two main lobbying groups whose previous political coalitions were critical to the 2015 massive transportation funding reforms.

The special session is needed to fix what was believed at the time to a minor “mistake” to the original bill. That fix, in the 2016 Legislature, aimed at helping out rural roads – which had been shortchanged in the 2015 gas tax hike bill.

Unfortunately, the 2016 correction – which flew through the general session on consent calendars – was based on differing calculations – one by the cities another by the counties.

The result, UPD is told, was a gas tax shortfall for cities and urban counties of between $8 million and $10 million a year.

The 2015 gas tax reform – which overall is raising $100 million for state, city and county roads – has local government payouts six times a year.

One of this year’s payouts was temporarily halted, one source said, to put pressure on the rural counties to come to an agreement.

City officials agree, this source said, not to seek back-payment losses, part of the up-to-$10 million shortfall.

Instead, the city/urban county deficit will be corrected in a new future formula for B & C roads and such.

What GOP leaders in the House and Senate don’t want is for the proposed fixes to spill over into the 2017 Legislature.

Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, the author of the 2015 gas-tax-hike bill, is retiring from the House this year.

Leaders want Anderson to shepherd the new funding formula fix through a fall special session – he won’t be around in the 2017 general session to carry the political water.

Besides, any serious fight between urban and rural interests is always a political mess – and some big-city mayors are already calling on their local legislators to play hardball over the missed road monies.

So it is best to nip this fight in the bud now, and let Anderson lead the compromise, sources said.

Special sessions are usually held on the monthly interim study days, which for the rest of this year fall on Sept. 21Oct. 19 and Nov. 16.

The Legislature historically doesn’t meet in December, taking that month off preparing for the January-March 45-day general sessions.

Only Gov. Gary Herbert can call lawmakers into a special session, and he alone sets the agenda.