Will lawmakers or the governor call next week’s special session?

Utah Capitol 02

While no final decision has been made yet, it appears that next week’s special legislative session will be called by legislative leaders, not Gov. Gary Herbert.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy.com Monday morning that that would be his preference, and while legislative staffers and the governor’s budget office are still looking at how much money should be shifted about during the Aug. 20 special session, it looks now that it won’t be enough to require Herbert to act — lawmakers can do it on their own.

The difference in who calls the session can be interesting. If GOP legislative leaders call the session, they set the agenda — what bills will be heard, what kind of budget changes they will make in light of the coronavirus’ impact on state revenue collections and spending.

If Herbert calls the session, he sets the agenda and legislators can only consider what he says they can. And as is always the case, it’s unlikely Herbert would put in a special session call any item which he might disapprove of — should legislators pass such a bill.

While GOP legislative leaders and Herbert, a Republican, often agree beforehand on what will be considered in a special session, in a legislative-called session it is always possible even an agreed-upon bill could be amended, or substituted, to great changes its original intent, and Herbert faces the possibility that he would need to veto it.

Legislative-called special sessions, by their nature, could put political pressure on the governor on an issue/bill that he otherwise could have avoided by not putting that issue on a governor-called special session in the first place.

The 2018 constitutional amendment approved by voters does limit when a legislative special session can be called, and how much of the budget legislators can deal with in such a session– all done to assuage worries that lawmakers wouldn’t make tough budget decisions at the end of their annual general session, and then leaders would call a special session right after the general session and draw out difficult budget decisions.

UtahPolicy.com gave readers a hint of what will likely be on the special session, as a list was passed around to top legislators and discussed in a special Senate GOP caucus.

One item that may be on the special session deals with a very touchy subject — tax credits to parents for the time their students are not going to in-person classroom instruction, a kind of backdoor vouchers program for homeschooling.

This may only apply to a short time frame, during the coronavirus outbreak across Utah.

But if approved and implemented, would conservative legislators and Herbert/Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — the heir-apparent to Herbert’s office — decide to continue, or even expand — such a program? (School voucher general means giving parents tax cuts/credits for sending their children to private schools and/or home-teaching.)

The Utah Education Association and public-school advocates have been adamantly against vouchers — arguing it takes tax money away from public schools — and were instrumental in killing a voucher law passed by the 2007 Legislature, but repealed in a citizen referendum soon after.

Speaking generally, and not towards any specific bill in the special session, Adams said that he supports attempts to give parents more options during the pandemic in their schooling choices for their children. He likes the idea of raising the student-number caps on some charter schools — which are publicly-funding schools that often specialize in a few types of learning, like for the arts or computer technology.

In a June special session — with some lawmakers in their chambers, others participating online from home — leading lawmakers hoped that cuts to this year’s budget may be more than what is actually needed.

In other words, tax revenues would come in higher than anticipated, and some state programs could see more money coming later this fiscal year — which ends June 30, 2021.

Adams said next week’s session won’t, however, deal with any added spending.

“It is just too uncertain” as to how much money will be coming this year in personal and corporate income taxes, he added. It will take a few more months of tax collections and projections to figure those numbers out.

Will there be another special session after August?

That is unknown now, Adams said. But if it does come, and that is still a big “if,” most likely it would be in October.

If the state’s finances don’t need an update by October, he said, it’s likely lawmakers can wait two more months to just deal with budget issues in the annual general session, which starts the end of January 2021.