SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed a record 535 bills in 2017, and with more than 1,200 bill requests on the docket this year that record could be in jeopardy when the 2018 session gets underway Monday.
The base of the session circles around the $16.7 billion 2018 state budget Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled in December, which includes increases to both K-12 and higher education spending, as well as increases to social programs (such as $10 million toward Operation Rio Grande), $10 million for a new state park at Echo Reservoir and upgrades to Olympic venues to amp up Utah’s potential bid for a future winter Olympics.
However, there will be much more up for vote — including taxes, air quality, affordable housing and everything in between.
Education will likely be a major topic — as always — during this year’s session. Herbert referred to 2018 as the “Year of the Technical Education” during his December budget announcement. His budget proposal included putting a solid chunk of $382 million in new revenue toward education.
That includes a focus on technical colleges. During the Salt Lake Chamber's annual Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit last week, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, echoed similar sentiments, saying teachers and counselors should push to encourage more students to look at technical jobs and not just four or more-year college degrees.
“We need to take children and guide them in the right way. … We want to make sure everyone is highly skilled, no matter what you choose to do,” she said.
There is, of course, a change in taxes expected to take place in February, when a $1.5 trillion federal tax overhaul signed by Donald Trump in December takes effect. It remains to be seen what that means for Utah income and the various uses it could affect, like such as education.
“Hopefully we’ll see a bit of a windfall from this federal tax reform, and then hopefully we’ll see some increases when we look at our final revenue numbers in February,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, during Tuesday’s legislative preview.
State taxes are anticipated to be in the conversion during this year’s session.
Point of the Mountain
Another topic up for discussion that could play out deals is what to do with areas in the southern part of Salt Lake County and the northern part of Utah County, such as the Point of the Mountain and the outgoing battle over the Utah State Prison site in Draper. The area has had trouble with a growing amount of traffic, but has also become a tech hotbed in recent years.
“You look at all the activity that’s going on there, you’ll see there’s almost a black hole that’s 700 acres — that is that prison area,” said Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes on Tuesday. “We don’t think ... we absolutely know that area, as it’s being master-planned, is going to grow this economy.”
The Point of the Mountain Development Commission is expected to meet during the first day of the session.
There are also several initiatives happening away from legislation that may weigh over the session such as Count My Vote — a bill that would alter the current caucus model in elections — as well as an initiative to allow the use of medical marijuana, another for education spending, and another for changing Utah’s current political boundaries.
While they could play a factor in bills proposed at the Capitol, those initiatives wouldn’t be decided on until they are placed on a ballot during this year’s election.