Newly-elected Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson will have a lot on their plates come the 2019 Legislature.
Not the least of which, UtahPolicy.com is told, will be significant revenue surpluses – which will be announced formally when GOP Gov. Gary Herbert releases his recommended budget in early December.
But they will also have two, probably three, new citizen initiative petitions that, while approved by voters, will be critically looked at – and probably amended – by lawmakers.
Both Wilson and Adams had no challengers for their top posts. The other new leaders elected in closed caucuses (made up of the new GOP representatives and senators elected Tuesday):
- Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. He was the majority whip, so moves up a slot.
- Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. He was budget vice chair in the House, so he wins his first elected leadership post.
- Majority Assistant Whip Val Peterson, R-Orem, who was the chair of the House Standing Education Committee, an appointed position.
In the Senate:
- Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, he was the co-chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, an appointed position.
- Majority Whip Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem. Hemmert defeated Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.
- Assistant Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden. Millner prevailed in a three-way race over Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross and Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy.
The only drama from the evening’s elections came when Sen. Buxton was eliminated on the first ballot in the Asst. Majority Whip race. Buxton reportedly believed he had the votes to win the race, so it was surprising that he was knocked out of the running so early.
On the House side, Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, surprised his colleagues by jumping into the Asst. Majority Whip race on Wednesday against Rep. Peterson. However, there were concerns Hutchings could lose his race against Democrat Edgar Harwood. Hutchings currently has a 164 vote lead. Hutchings thought better of it and dropped his bid before the vote, endorsing Potter.
Question 1, a gasoline tax hike for public schools, was swamped by voters. Asked if the 2019 session will raise any taxes for schools, Wilson said bluntly: “No.”
But healthy budget surpluses could fuel some significant new spending in both higher and public education.
Adams said that the resounding rejection of Question 1 won’t hamper legislative efforts to adequately fund education.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to fund education. It’s our number one priority, and we’ll keep it up,” said Adams.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve put a billion dollars of new money into education over the past few years, and we’ll continue,” added Vickers. “We have to.”
Reps. Val Peterson, Mike Schultz, Brad Wilson and Francis Gibson
Sens. Ann Millner, Stuart Adams, Evan Vickers and Daniel Hemmert
Wilson replaces retiring Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, whom Wilson praised in his remarks to the press after the election.
Wilson, a homebuilder, said he’ll have several issues he wants to deal with in upcoming session – perhaps the most far-reaching reworking the state’s economic development strategy, with an emphasis on the jobs/businesses that Utah needs to encourage to deal with growth.
On the political side, Wilson said while a Dec. 3 special session will deal with the medical marijuana Prop 2 passed Tuesday, the 2019 session will take a hard look at Prop 3, Medicaid expansion, and Prop 4, the independent redistricting commission (assuming it passes after all votes are counted).
Wilson said Legislative General Counsel John Fellows has issued opinions on both – which may be made public at a later date.
Working groups of House and Senate Republicans will be formed to review both initiatives, Wilson told UtahPolicy.com.
“I’m concerned with the absence of a work requirement” in the initiative Medicaid expansion, he said. Also, while Prop 3 comes with a small state sales tax hike to pay for it, the amount raised won’t cover projected expansion costs.
“What do we do, cut education budgets? Cut transportation?” to pay for the expansion, he asked.
Prop 4, the Better Boundaries redistricting commission, “has real logistic” concerns, he said. Wilson had an extensive analysis of some of its problems which will start the discussion in the upcoming session.
“It has a lot of unintended consequences, and real financial costs,” he said.
“Medicaid may become a bigger part of our budget than even education,” added Adams. “We’ve got to find a way to fix that.”
Adams was pleased that voters approved Amendment C, which allows the legislature to call themselves into a special session in certain cases.
“I think it’s well crafted. I don’t think it will be used that often,” said Adams. “It’s just another tool to allow us to take care of our citizens.”
“I hope it’s not used very often,” added Hemmert, who was the floor sponsor of the Amendment before it went to voters.
Gibson said the terrible wildfires that ravaged his part of Utah County brought to the forefront, again, air quality issues that should be taken up again in the general session.
Schultz said he and his wife have six children. “Seventy percent of our population growth is within our own households.” And there are a number of big issues on growth that Utah needs to get ahead of, he added.
He is a homebuilder, like Wilson, and both men said affordable housing will be another issue the Legislature must address.
A few final insider tidbits:
- Millner is one of the few women ever elected to GOP Senate leadership.
- Both Peterson and Hemmert are from Orem – giving that Utah County city significant clout. Gibson is also from Utah County.
- None of the new leaders in either body are from Salt Lake County – the state’s largest.
- The two big bosses, Wilson and Adams, are from northern Utah.