Tag Archives: utah legislature

Education facing the budget axe

It’s bad enough that Utah Legislators are attempting to destroy the public educational system in the state.  Along with bills that want to transfer control from the State Board over to the Legilators or the Governor (depending on which bill), the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed a total of  $257 million dollars to education programs for the upcoming fiscal year.

Ouch.  Double ouch.  Triple ouch.

What is making the situation worse is the shocker news about cutting programs at both ends of the spectrum – gifted and special needs.  As aresponse to a demand to prioritize cuts, the State Board inlcuded The Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind in the amount of $20 million.  Double take.  $20 million.

"We’re going to cut some of these things, so you need to tell us in what rank of importance do you see (these programs)" Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said to State Superintendent Larry Shumway.

The State Board of Education approved a list of programs that could be cut if needed last week, and on the figurative chopping block was $20 million in funding for USDB. The board was emphatic that it doesn’t want to see education cut in any way and was only making the recommendation to assist the committee.

(Deseret News, February 8, 2011)

This axe would effectively kill early intervention services to students with sight and hearing impairments, along with services that are best delivered in the specialized setting of the separate schools.

Legislators have put state education officials in a precarious position.  Utah is already at the top of the list in class size and at the bottom in per pupil spending.  The system already operates on a bare bones budget.

What will be the sacrifice of these cuts?  What are the stakes for our future generations when education is sacrificed – for all students?  Mediocrity appears to be the mission.  Dare I say…..reminiscent of A Brave New World?  Maybe…….

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Mineral and Petroleum “Literacy” Act: “Balanced” curriculum?

Legislators are on the move this year to take control of Utah’s education system (SJR1 and SJR9).  It seems that there are already steps being taken to write curriculum in the form of legislation.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, is pushing legislation that would require educators to "consider" adding lessons into the curriculum about energy development, with the "Mineral and Petroleum Literacy Act", HB25.  The bill has passed the house and has moved on to the Senate.

Recommended by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, and, in Drexler’s mind, in an effort to "balance" the curriculum, the bill

seeks to "educate" children about mining and petroleum drilling. The funds for the program would come out of surplus mining profits….most Utah kids don’t know that oil, gas and coal contribute to their education, and to the state’s economy. "Most of them," he[Drexler] said, "don’t know their iPods, their toothbrushes, their homes and their roads are all products of this kind of natural resource development."

(Jillian Rayfield, TPMMuckracker, November 19, 2010, who adds "The plan, it seems, is to show young Utahans how great oil is.")

It’s not enough that information about Utah is taught in elementary and middle school Utah Studies curriculum, including industries of the Beehive state. I t is speculated by some that legislators fear the knowledge that children are receiving in other curricular areas about energy and conservation.

The Salt Lake Tribune gives this bill a "thumbs down" to this piece of legislation:

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Ogden, has convinced his colleagues in the House that Utah schoolchildren are learning too much about energy conservation and recycling and not enough about the benefits of drilling for gas and oil. We’re not sure why they see this as a scale that must be balanced. Somehow, they seem to fear, children will be persuaded that if conservation and recycling are good then energy development is bad. Draxler’s bill would allocate all-too-scarce dollars so that teachers can explain that Americans should continue to rely on and subsidize fossil fuels. If balance is needed, we’d like to also see an explanation of how burning carbon fuels and drilling for them are contributing to the air that’s so bad these same children can’t go outside at recess.

Not to mention education about the longevity of the natural resources being extracted and the impact to the ecosystems as a result of the degradation of the land.

The funding allocation is vague as well.  While it is stated that monies would be generated from the surplus funds of the Oil and Gas Conservation Account, which is a fund that has a state mandated cap, it doesn’t say how much would be given from that and how much beyond the cap would need to come from Utah taxpayers.

This is a biased and unbalanced piece of legislation that has not brought all interests to the table for discussion.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

“Pursuit of Happiness”: Not if some legislators have their way….

.…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Are our state legislators really interested in the values of our Founding Fathers?  Or are they more interested in property rights…..including owning the "pursuit of happiness" as property?

The interference of such rights are at stake with HB 182, being introduced by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-District 48.

Christensen (R-District 48) has reintroduced a bill he tried to pass in 2006 which prohibits same-sex couples from making contractual agreements, such as wills and financial arrangements.

The bill, known in 2006 as HB 304, but now as HB 182, slides in under the generic title “Voiding Transactions Against Public Policy,” and declares “an arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is illegal or against public policy to be void and unenforceable.”

HB 182′s language is virtually word-for word from the narrowly-defeated 2006 measure, and if passed, would strip even more rights away from the same-sex couples who depend on contractual arrangements, as Utah denies them any of the inherent protections afforded to heterosexual couples.

~ Eric Ethington

Not only is this bill a violation of the rights of human beings, it is based on the religious beliefs of some on what constitutes a "union" between two individuals.  It is part of their efforts  to do everything possible to impose those beliefs on others through bills such as this one which go so far as to invade the private business of individuals; not to mention that it is unenforceable.  Should a bill like this manage to get passed, everyone’s rights will be more at stake – regardless of gender preference.

Legislators such as Rep. Christensen are living a double standard.  They send messages with some bills that demand less interference from the federal government and claim to want to live the values of Founding Fathers of the United States.  Yet messages such as the degradation of the rights of human beings, as is the intent of HB 182, is antithetical to these other messages, which intend to infringe upon the "unalienable Rights" endowed by the Creator, including the "pursuit of Happiness" of all men, women and children.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Here we go again: raising taxes on food

We  have long written here on the issue of taxes on food by the legislature to fund other areas.

This year is no exception to the head rearing of this ugly issue.

Bill Tibbitts of Crossroads Urban Center, an organization advocating for the rights of the poor, says:

Utah Representative Mike "Nuclear" Noel is proposing to double the sales tax on food to fund a cut to property taxes– which will disproportionately benefit large businesses– like one of the nuclear power plants Noel wants to bring to Utah.

Read Nuclear Noel’s bill here:
http://le.utah.gov/~2011/bills/hbillint/hb0072.htm

Nuclear Noel is also a proud supporter of bringing nuclear power plants to Utah:
http://www.mikenoel.com/blog_display.cfm?bid=4DE42D1C-1143-15D5-EB7FF606E942D5A4

Utah is among the few states that charge people to eat.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2009:

  • Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia exempt most food purchased for consumption at home from the state sales tax. South Carolina is the state that most recently eliminated its sales tax on food (effective November 1, 2007).
  • Seven states tax groceries at lower rates than other goods; they are Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Five states — Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota— tax groceries fully but offer credits or rebates offsetting some of the taxes paid on food by some portions of the population. These credits or rebates usually are set at a flat amount per family member. The amounts and eligibility rules vary, but may be too narrow and/or insufficient to give eligible households full relief from sales taxes paid on food purchases.
  • Two states continue to apply their sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families. They are Alabama and Mississippi.

The bottom line is that no one should have to pay extra for what is necessary for survival.  Eating is one of those necessities.  The food tax should be taken away entirely.

(Cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Immigration Bills bring a lot of attention

A hot issue….again…..this year:  Immigration.

 

Today the "Don’t Let Utah Become Arizona!" rally was held on the steps of Utah’s State Capitol building.  Created by a group on facebook called "No SB 1070 in Utah!" the rally was held  in coordination with United for Social Justice (united4socialjustice.org) on the first day of Utah’s legislative session.  The facebook event announced:

Don’t let Utah become Arizona!! Now is the time to stand up and fight back for immigrant rights.

Sandstrom and others in the state government want to pass laws attacking immigrants this spring.

Don’t let them break our families, churches, and friendships with raids, deportation, and fear.

Indeed this was the passionate message on those steps today.

 

A People Divided

Back in November the Deseret News published the Official text of Utah Compact declaration on immigration reform, a declaration of five principles that was endorsed by many community members, including the LDS church, to “guide Utah’s immigration discussion.”

Then I was reading yesterday’s Salt Tribune article on the growing Momentum building for Utah immigration reform.   Immigration reform is and will continue to be a hot and emotional issue in Utah and beyond.  After reading this article and doing more research I was gearing up for a piece to post on Utah Legislature Watch, formulating information about both sides of the issue along with my own stance on immigration reform.

Little did I know that hours later our nation would be gripped with shock over the terrible tragedy in Tucson, Arizona where a gunman shot US Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords in the head before spraying bullets into a crowd that ultimately resulted in the deaths of six innocent people – among them a 9 year old child.

There is a lot of speculation about why this incident occurred, including the underlying political current in the country, particularly since Rep. Giffords had been a target of threats and vandalism.  It is no surprise that over the past few years there has been increasing amounts of hatred and violence in political debates – the network political commentator programs are no exception to this – inciting hatred and violence amongst people in the United States over their political views and practices.  One only has to read the comments in the articles cited in the first two paragraphs above to see the undercurrent of hate towards fellow human beings without any thought at all to discussing the real problems of immigration reform…or health care reform…or ethics reform…or global warming…or any issue – and devising solutions together as communities should.

There are a lot of things to say on immigration reform in Utah.  In time.  At this time, though, I offer my sympathy to the victims and their families of the tragedy in Tuscon.  I pray for recovery and healing – a healing of not only those directly affected by the incident but also by the rest of us on the periphery – a healing of the heart and mind.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

The Solution to Funding Education: School Bus Ads

Utah is last in the nation in per pupil spending and at the top of the list in class sizes.  Yet legislators in Utah continually find ways to under fund and cut spending for the education of our state’s children.

Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, will be introducing a bill (again) to allow advertising on school buses.  His rationale:

….there’s little difference between placing an ad on the side of a school bus and the plethora of ads students already see at school.

“You go to a football game at any high school along the Wasatch Front and you see banners all along the football field,” Bird said in an interview. “This isn’t any different than that.”
(Bloomberg, December 29, 2011
)

Bird also hopes that school districts would use the money from the ad revenues for their transportation budgets so that “school buses wouldn’t have to be cut”.

Opponents of the bill realize this is not the way to fund education, for a variety of reasons.

Children are already deluged with ads on television, the Internet and even the clothing they wear. They are encouraged to buy products or persuade their parents to buy products nearly everywhere they go. Schools already sell advertising space on playing field scoreboards, on vending machines and sometimes on televised educational programs.

Enough is enough.

While we support more funding for schools, those funds should be collected in the usual ways. There are untapped revenue sources the Legislature should consider before succumbing to the easy-money lure of selling our kids’ attention to commercial interests.

(Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, January 6, 2011)

The idea of paying more taxes is always controversial, but for essential services, that include education, it’s a no-brainer. 

Rep. Bird’s bill would prohibit advertising like this on school buses.

We couldn’t possibly raise the tax on people with 15 children in the system while I continue to (happily I might add) pay my fair share despite my current lack of children. We couldn’t increase funds on extracting resources from our lands or divert funds away from paying off contractors…nope we have to whore out our children. Perhaps we should also require school uniforms and make sure that each school has a sponsor.

Hell, why not have individual classes sponsored as well? Math brought to you by Texas Instruments, Biology sponsored by Pfizer, Gym by McDonalds!

(Curtis Haring, Blue in Red Zion)

Legislators need to get real.  Teachers work very hard in this state to educate our children despite the lack of resources.  If you haven’t visited your child’s, or your neighbor’s children’s classrooms, do.  When you see the lights on in your neighborhood school after hours, you can bet that the cleaning people are not the only people working there.  Teachers spend the time needed – in and outside of school hours – to be sure their classrooms and curriculum are set up for your child to learn.

It’s time to stop skirting around the issue of under funding education and piecemealing funding ideas.   The Governor has put forth a recommendation in his budget to generating more money for schools.  Rational discussion and exploration is in order with sensible solutions put on the table.  The bill for ads on school buses is not rational or sensible. 

(Cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)