Bob Bernick’s Notebook: What a Time to Be Alive

Are you kind of a "techy" person?

Like to get onto the Internet and check out cool stuff?

Welcome to the Utah Legislature’s relatively new – and certainly updated – Fiscal Health Dashboard.

It is the idea of Legislative Fiscal Analyst boss Jonathan Ball and his brainy budget compatriots.

I’m not a techy guy. At 63, I’m basically a Luddite.

But even I am impressed by what the fiscal analyst has done.

And I think I understand most of it.

Utah legislative watchers will know that the state’s legislative web sites have won various awards and praise from their counterparts in other states for the “openness” and high-tech work.

You can search all kinds of reports, records, and special presentations, not only on the legislative site, but on sites all across the state government spectrum.

You can, for example, look up the pay of every state employee.

I remember in my early newspaper reporting years you could ask for a government employee’s pay – but you didn’t get it.

Sometimes the bosses would give you a range of the pay level – like a computer programmer II would be making between this and that.

Now you look up the employee’s name and – bang – you get his exact pay, with or without benefits.

On the Legislature’s web site, you can find out who your representative and senator are, look into their voting records, committee assignments, the bills they’ve sponsored and on and on.

You can sign up to track a bill, and be notified by email every time that a bill has action taken upon it, in real time. All from your smart phone or computer.


And now on the main legislative web site – – you can click on the dashboard link and find out all kinds of interesting budget, taxation, and spending information.

Want to know which tax revenues are growing the fastest? It’s there.

How about a 10-year history of public education funding? Yep.

As you drill down deeper (a new hi-tech phrase I’ve learned) you come to a weird-looking circular chart – kind of a gasoline gage looking thingy.

It tells you – after you learn how to read it – where a specific fund’s taxes are coming in, year-to-date.

If the tax revenues are coming in under the fiscal analysts’ offices prediction (a bad thing) the needle moves into the red zone.

Taxes are coming in about right; the needle is straight up.

If they are coming in above estimates (a good thing), then the needle moves into the green zone.

You guessed it. Utah’s economy is booming, taxes revenues are climbing, and the needle in the various categories are mostly on the green side.

The Education Funds revenues at $3.1 billion are up 11.9 percent, nearly off of the green scale they are so good.

Legislative leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, are constantly praising their branch’s employees.

And since the lawmakers hire all their employees, that is understandable.

I mean, it wouldn’t be good if lawmakers kept saying how dopey and incompetent their workers are.

But I must say, and I’ve covered the legislative branch of government for more than 30 years, Utah’s legislative workers are pretty smart folks.

And hardworking. They put in amazing hours during the Legislature’s 45-day general sessions.

Their bosses may do some goofy stuff.

And the more politically progressive staffers likely go home with achy heads when they see what some of the archconservative legislators do and promote.

But overall, Utah’s legislative branch is forward thinking, looking for ways to save money and make good decisions.

And the staffs are top flight, from the attorneys, to research analysts, fiscal analysts and auditor general.

And the relatively-small House and Senate staffs put up with noisy reporters day in and day out.

This really happened: Two years ago I told a Senate staffer that it would be nice for an old dog like me to be able to look at just one place on the web site to see new bills introduced each day during the general session.

With in minutes (I’m not kidding) the new site was set up.  The only unfortunate thing is that they made it available to all the public, including competing reporters. Darn.

Anyway, just look at the cool new dashboard to see what’s new now in public information available.

I think you’ll find it of value.