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It's been a banner legislative session

Speaker of the House Greg Hughes applauds as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser shakes hands with Gov. Gary Herbert as he leaves the Utah House of Representatives after giving his State of the State address in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.
Speaker of the House Greg Hughes applauds as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser shakes hands with Gov. Gary Herbert as he leaves the Utah House of Representatives after giving his State of the State address in Salt Lake City on Wednesday January 24, 2018.
Steve Griffin

The final votes are in. The Utah Legislature completed a banner legislative session. Victory goes to the residents of Utah as the legislature passed visionary, bold and meaningful legislation that will keep Utah prosperous over the long term.

Success has many fathers, but I attribute the success of the 2018 legislative session to the combined leadership of House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, both of whom have announced their retirement. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their service.

The 2018 General Legislative Session concluded with extraordinary successes.

  • Enhanced education funding? Done. Utah students will see an additional $845 per-pupil increase in spending if voters pass a 10-cent motor fuel tax this fall.
  • Modernized tax code? Check, even as we have more work to do.
  • Income tax cut for individuals and corporations to keep Utah economically competitive? Done.
  • A statue of Martha Hughes Cannon in the U.S. Capitol’s Statutory Hall collection? Done.
  • Funding to help maintain Utah’s Olympic facilities and be ready for another bid? Done.
  • Medicaid expansion? No problem, just get a waiver and you can extend insurance coverage to up to 70,000 low-income Utahns.
  • Continued investment in infrastructure? Yes. Utah will join 46 other states that invest in transit with state funds, which will help address air quality and congestion.
  • New governance for Utah’s maligned, but award-winning transit agency? Done.

The bigger the challenge the more this legislature showed what it can do. By the end of the session, 19 lawmakers, in addition to the speaker and president, announced they would not seek re-election. Some have speculated they are just worn out.

Hughes runs the House with a strong bias toward action. Lawmaking for him is a crusade and he leads the charge with passion, inviting all to join him – conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, urban and rural. The minute he announced this was his last session the timer started. House members responded by supporting Hughes’ leadership. His considerable political talent paid dividends.

On the other side of the third floor of the capitol sits the perfect foil to Hughes — Niederhauser. He’s a public policy thinker first and a politician second. Niederhauser sees around corners and with a quiet quality leads his body with duty and poise. The Utah Senate responds to his policy craftsmanship.

Where Hughes imparts emotion, Niederhauser imparts logic. Where Hughes puts on boxing gloves, Niederhauser puts on quiet diplomacy. They combine their strengths to create a special brand of public leadership. It’s complementary leadership that combines the best of the street fighter with the diplomat, the zeal with the measure, and the public policy savvy of both to create a leadership gumbo that creates results.

They have a saying on Capitol Hill that leading the legislature is like keeping rabbits on a flatbed truck while driving down the road. The saying conveys the difficulty of guiding people with different backgrounds, who represent different constituencies, and who possess different views. In their swan song legislative session, Hughes and Niederhauser masterfully kept the rabbits on the truck.

It’s right to add that our good governor — the guy everybody loves to love and who has ably led Utah through nearly nine years of economic expansion — contributes his brand of always civil, data-driven leadership to Utah’s legislative success. His ability to work productively with the speaker and president has been key to Utah’s recent success.

There are some who will complain that their prized piece of legislation didn’t pass. I was disappointed the legislature failed to pass a tax credit for the working poor or to reform public education governance. Even still, I think the 2018 session will go down as one of Utah’s most impressive sessions and the perfect swan song for Hughes and Niederhauser’s leadership. Equally important, Utah’s is well on its way to one of its longest economic expansions in state history. We say thanks.