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House passes bill Huntsman is likely to veto

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There are a few times in the Utah Legislature where you can actually lose a vote but win a battle — and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. did that Tuesday.

A bill that Huntsman promises to veto passed the House, 44-29.

"We're disappointed," said Huntsman deputy chief of staff Mike Mower. "But we're pleased that his veto would be upheld" because the bill didn't get two-thirds majority — the 50 votes needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

As reported Sunday in the Deseret Morning News, Huntsman promised to veto Rep. Margaret Dayton's HB352 and a second bill, both of which Huntsman told the newspaper "are too extreme" and threaten the current "balance of power" between the executive and legislative branches of state government.

When Dayton introduced HB352 several weeks ago, she had 51 co-sponsors. Counting her own vote, that is two more than the 50 votes (two-thirds) needed to override a veto.

But Mower told the newspaper last week that he had promises from at least six co-sponsors that they would switch their votes if Huntsman asked.

Apparently he asked.

Tuesday, only 44 representatives voted for Dayton's bill. The new law would require that if a budget bill, or any part of a budget bill, is vetoed by the governor then the current year's spending plan struck down by the veto just keeps on going.

Huntsman said he would lose "important negotiating power" through the new law in any attempt to force that a balanced budget be adopted.

"We appreciate that those, as well as others, who were willing to listen to our concerns" and vote against HB352, said Mower, who watched the vote from the House gallery.

"We hope this (bill) won't pass the Senate. But if it does, we're pleased with these numbers" in the House, which means Huntsman's veto would be upheld, said Mower.

Mower had previously called HB352 "a power grab, pure and simple."

But Dayton and others, including at least one Democrat, said that HB352 actually changes nothing.

Dayton said the bill was "benign," because the House has already passed a rule that calls for a base-budget bill — which generally reflects the current year's spending — to be passed within the first 10 days of each general session.

Thus, unless the rule is changed or overridden by a majority of legislators, ongoing budgets would in fact keep funding state government, she said.

But Rep. Dave Hogue, R-Riverton, said he opposed HB352 because it could allow one legislative body to adjourn without a budget being adopted — knowing that the current year's spending would continue. The Senate has actually adjourned during a special session while the House believed it could still negotiate a settlement with the upper body, Hogue recalls.

"Let the Senate walk out," said Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, who voted for the ill-fated bill. "And they will face dispersion by their constituents" for not finishing the people's business.

HB352 now goes to the Senate.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com