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Richard Piatt ReportingUtah is in better financial shape than lawmakers thought at first. At the same time, they're still not in the mood to limit smoking in private clubs. Lawmakers in the Senate snuffed out a controversial bill the same day they're practically giddy over finding they've got more money than they thought they had.
More money actually makes it more complicated for the Legislature because now everyone who was told 'no', or 'maybe', will beg for a second chance at funding. That means environmentalists who want money for things like open space; it means the Governor's office will renew its push to drop the corporate income tax; and it includes an army of people who want to restore vision and dental insurance for the poor---two benefits cut, two years ago.
Pamela Atkinson/Medicare Advocate: "This has been on their radar, many of these health and human services. And another one is child care."
Corporate and income tax revenue to the state was much higher than expected; the $73.7 million more in ongoing money means 398 million is now available; 48-million is available for one year only, bringing that total to 285 million.
The money's immediate effect is to ease tension about Leadership's desire to fund 70 million dollars in transportation projects. The rest of the money is subject to debate, and sometimes partisan differences of opinion.
Rep. Ron Bigelow, (R) West Valley City: "We recognize there are still things that need funding even before this new money came in, so we're working to get the money to where it can do the best job."
Rep. Ralph Becker, (D) Salt Lake City: "We also see a need for some longer term issues, not just transportation, but addressing open space. Public education funding long term is still a very serious issue."
At the same time the Legislature is wrestling with money, they're also wrestling with policy. Today deciding NOT to force private clubs and taverns to ban smoking. The bill would have made Utah's bars smoke free. It was a controversial measure. In the end many senators just didn't like the idea of the state regulating smoking in privately owned establishments.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, (R) Draper: “I think that should be a consumer choice. It’s not something that should be dictated by government.”
Senator Howard Stephenson was one of 16 lawmakers who voted to kill the bill today, but there's a chance it could be back next year.