clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Things are pretty quiet on S.L.'s Capitol Hill - so far

Two weeks into the 1998 Legislature and things are pretty mild.

And considering that this is an election year for all 75 House members and half of the 29-member Senate, a smooth-sailing session would be welcome by many involved.The notedly conservative House and Senate have already killed, or quieted, a number of controversial issues.

This past week a House committee killed the English As Official Language bill, with some committee members saying Rep. Tammy Rowan's bill had some merit but that the issue was too emotional for proper consideration.

No abortion bill has come up yet, and none may.

And some issues that have proven controversial, and publicly embarrassing, in the past - like outlawing gay clubs in public schools - also aren't on the agenda.

There are no tax cuts to argue about.

There aren't any overt tax hikes (although without some action state personal income taxes will go up about $8 million next year because of federal tax changes).

Democrats in the House and Senate are more vocal than in years past, taking on Republicans over transportation funding and staking out some areas they can run on later this year.

But so far Republicans aren't rising to the bait.

In fact, Republicans are challenging Democrats to come up with an alternative spending proposal for I-15 and other road construction projects.

There are always budget fights in the Legislature, and this session will be no different.

But so far GOP leaders have kept to their promise - no great open battles with Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt.

Next week Leavitt goes to the Winter Olympics in Japan for several days, and things will probably even get quieter.

It's so routine, in fact, that Republican leaders say they're having a hard time finding enough things to talk about in their Tuesday and Thursday early morning leadership meetings.

Caucuses in the House and Senate sometimes have only one or two items for discussion, with legislators leaving early to do other work.

In short, it's a quiet year.

But don't be confused. Things will heat up. They always do.

Who would have thought that two years ago an early session, closed caucus in the Senate would end up in lawsuits and protests by schoolchildren?

Last year, Leavitt and GOP leaders got into a public fight over gas tax hikes and road funding.

This year you may want to watch the (normally boring) issue of state bonding.

Leavitt suggests tens of millions in bonds - general obligation bonds, revenue bonds and higher education bonds.

Conservative Republicans want much less borrowing.

Debt - unless it comes in the billions and trillions like the U.S. government's - doesn't catch a lot of looks from citizens or ink from journalists.

But a number of legislators say the state is borrowing way too much money and worry about paying it back over the next 10 years while billions of dollars in highway bonds also are being retired.

For newspaper reporters the idea of bonds being the most important issue of the 1998 Legislature is a distressing thought.

But I've covered the Utah Legislature for nearly 20 years. And I have faith.

These good citizens will find something more newsworthy, and more interesting to voters, before their 45 days are out.