Legislative Republicans back away from ‘backdoor voucher’ plan

Utah Capitol 05

Utah lawmakers will not consider a bill in next week’s special legislative session that would give tax cuts/credits to parents whose children are home-taught instead of attending in-person K-12 classes when public schools open later this month, UtahPolicy.com has been told.

“That is a good issue for the next general session,” said one GOP leader Thursday night.

UtahPolicy.com reported first that some GOP legislators wanted such a bill in the Aug. 20 special session, called to take care of as many as two dozen matters.

Clearly, the “backdoor” vouchers bill — as it has been dubbed — would have been one of the major pieces of legislation, if indeed it was considered.

But the Utah Education Association and other pro-teacher groups can take a deep breath — no such bill will be on the call.

Some federal funds given to Utah as part of the government coronavirus relief package must be parceled out during the session, such as allocating the final $150 million from the CARES Act.

But aside from that, only around $10 million in regular state funds must be moved here or there — not bad considering that in a June special session $770 million was shunted/cut from inside the current budget year and last year’s budget, which ended June 30.

The coronavirus has seriously harmed Utah’s economy, and thus state tax revenues.

“All in all, there are a lot of housekeeping matters that must be addressed,” this leader said about Thursday’s session.

Although he then said maybe one or two items may lead to a bit of controversy in a session that leaders hope can be accomplished on Thursday alone — not spill over into Friday.

Still undecided for sure is whether the Legislature itself will call the session or whether GOP Gov. Gary Herbert will.

Under a constitutional amendment passed in 2018, the Legislature can call itself into a special session. Previously, only the governor could do so, and he/she sets the agenda, which lawmakers must follow.

But under the new amendment, legislative leaders can call the Senate and House into a short special session, with leaders setting the agenda.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy.com earlier this week that if possible legislative leaders will call the session, thus giving lawmakers more flexibility into what they can discuss and vote on.

However, a legislative-called session can only move around 5 percent of the budget around — anything higher than that and the governor must call the session.

“I think, I think, we are under that,” one leader said Thursday night. But legislative counsel and budgeters must still meet to double-check all the numbers, then the leaders will call the session if they can, UtahPolicy.com is told.

In any case, for now, at least, there will be no talk of a voucher-like program to give tax dollars to parents to have their children home-taught or in private schools.

That debate will wait for another day.