Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Political Odds and Ends

In my column this week several small, but interesting, things for the real political Utah junkies.


First, tired of waiting for your afternoon interim study committee meetings to start?

I’ve sat in a crowded committee room on Capitol Hill for upwards of half an hour – even longer – as the co-chairs waited for tardy lawmakers – especially senators – to finally make an appearance.

Well, if the lawmakers won’t get to their afternoon committee meetings on time, what do leaders do?

Yep. They’ve decided to just start the meetings later.

Starting in July the afternoon interim meetings will start at 2:30 p.m. instead of the traditional 2 p.m. start time.

GOP House leaders told their caucus on Wednesday that senators every interim day meet on the floor during the two-hour lunchtime to debate and vote on gubernatorial appointees.

The House doesn’t have advise and consent. So representatives have a full two hours – fromnoon until 2 p.m. — to get some personal legislative business done (read that: to meet with lobbyists), eat lunch and still have an hour and a half for their (usually) open caucus meeting.

Senators, on the other hand, spend at least half an hour on the floor in advise and consent. Then have to eat lunch and hold their caucus.

The result, say House GOP leaders, is that senators continually come late to the afternoon joint interim study committees – as their closed caucus meetings run long.

That keeps House members and the public waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

The senators counter that sometimes it is House members who don’t show up on time for the2 p.m. meetings, and thus deny a committee a quorum.

In any case, from now on don’t show up at 2 p.m. for your afternoon interim committee meetings.

You’ll be sitting there alone for at least half an hour.

And what do you want to bet some lawmakers STILL won’t come on time for a 2:30 p.m.start.

Such is life on Capitol Hill.

As I’ve reported before, Utah’s 104 part-time lawmakers want to have some paid staff help year around for constituent services – setting up meetings with their voters, solving problems between constituents and state government, and such.

They appropriated $500,000 last general session for each house (total $1 million) to hire these folks.

Originally, the House planned on hired half a dozen or so folks, who would be housed on Capitol Hill, and work with the 75 representatives.

The Senate decided to give each of the 29 senators a bit of money and have them hire their own part-time folks who would be housed in each senator’s district.

Well, seems the House rank-and-file liked the Senate’s idea more.

And Wednesday, after some polling of House members, leaders announced that the new Office of Constituent Services will be run like this: Several House members whose districts are close to each other will get a part-time staffer to share.

That way, says House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, the staffers will live in and be familiar with local concerns, issues and such.

Both the Senate and House’s new staff offices, of course, opens the door for weird things to happen – like the state-paid aides doing personal and/or political work for their elected bosses.

But leaders say that won’t be allowed to happen. And that the new staffers’ work will be closely monitored by other full-time legislative staffers.

The new constituent services staff should be in place by this fall, Dee said.

Finally, in keeping with Utah state government’s award-winning web site, as determined by groups of really odd people who love both web sites and state governments, legislative staffers have developed a new tool that allows every Utahn to see exactly – down to the penny – where their state taxes go.

Go to this site and type in what you last paid in state income taxes. From that amount the program estimates your state sales tax.

Then you click “Calculate my taxpayer receipt” and you’ll see how much of you money went to public education, higher education, corrections, social services and the rest.

It’s pretty neat.

This is ONLY for state taxes. You won’t find where your property taxes go (the state has no property tax) or your local option sales taxes.

You also won’t see where any state fees – like business registrations – go.

And if you have a medium income and 10 kids at home you aren’t paying any state income tax – so this site won’t be helping you.

But then if you have 10 kids at home you don’t have time to play around with stuff like this anyway.