New Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson says that if lawmakers don't fix the state's tax structure, the state general fund could run short within a few years, leaving it unable to fund roads, public safety and other government programs.
Delivering his opening remarks on the first day of the legislative session Monday, Speaker Wilson says that restructuring to tax more services will allow the state to cut taxes overall by $225 million. He also says that other major issues this year include school safety and "smart investments" on air quality and infrastructure.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert says one of his top priorities this year will be education.
“As we set a goal to become the best performing economic engine in America today, we want to still have our goal to become the best performing education system in America today," he said. "We have now moved our graduation rates up 11 percent since I took office, our minority scores are up, our advanced placement courses were at fifth in the nation, ACT test scores are up…”
Herbert says his number two priority is Utah’s economy and job growth and third is the environment, with a big emphasis on air quality.
Medicaid expansion will also be a huge topic during the 45-day session. Concerned supporters of a voter-approved measure to fully expand Medicaid rallied at the capitol during opening day, asking lawmakers not to change the law. The law comes from a proposition voted in by Utah citizens last November.
“As you know, we saw what the voters did," said Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne. "Overwhelmingly, they understand that we need a healthy population. If we don’t have healthy people, they can’t work, they can’t pay taxes – it starts at the health of the community and the citizens.”
State leaders have said they plan to implement Medicaid expansion, but want to make changes so costs do not spiral out of control. A proposal by Republican Sen. Allen Christensen of North Ogden would cap enrollment and include a work requirement, changes requiring a potentially lengthy approval process from the federal government.
Lawmakers have said a sales tax increase included in the ballot measure won't cover the full cost. Advocates have said it will cover the program for at least two years, and any negotiations about funding could happen after the program is rolled out.
In the Senate Chambers during opening day, New Senate President Stuart Adams urged lawmakers to work together and strive to make Utah a model state for education and air quality. He also suggested replacing the old state building on Capitol grounds with more parking.