Utah House Republicans named a new leadership team Tuesday night, selecting House Majority Leader Mike Schultz of Hooper to take over as speaker from outgoing House Speaker Brad Wilson of Kaysville.
“Are you surprised?” a smiling Schultz asked reporters gathered for a news conference following a 1 1/2-hourlong, closed-door caucus where the GOP, who hold 61 of the House’s 75 seats, also voted to move up other current members of leadership.
Their choice of Schultz as speaker over Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, goes to the full House for a vote Wednesday, in an extraordinary session set for 5 p.m. where a resolution supporting Israel will also be considered.
Schultz would fill the vacancy being left by Wilson, whose resignation a year before his term as speaker was set to end in order to run for the U.S. Senate becomes effective at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The new Republican leaders are House Majority Leader Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs; Majority Whip Karen Lisonbee, R-Syracuse; and House Majority Assistant Whip Casey Snider, R-Paradise.
All of the races were contested. Moss had been majority whip; Lisonbee, majority assistant whip; and Snider, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.
“It makes us all better if there’s a little bit of competition,” Schultz said, adding that he was most excited about “how we still come together. ... Going through this leadership election race, I didn’t hear one negative thing said about any of the members sitting here.”
That says a lot about the House GOP caucus and the state, he said.
“The citizens of this state should be proud of who they send to Capitol Hill,” Schultz said. He said Utah lawmakers hold themselves to “a higher standard” than their GOP counterparts in Congress, who have repeatedly struggled to settle on a U.S. House speaker.
“We work really hard not to disparage one another, if we have disagreements,” he said, citing both written and unwritten rules that “just won’t let it fly.” Plus, Schultz said, “the citizens of this state expect more out of us. We realize that and we’re committed to that.”
Moss said the Republican supermajority has over the last year or two made an effort to get Democrats more involved in the budget process, and they also meet weekly with minority leadership.
Schultz wasn’t ready to be specific about his priorities as speaker, saying he needed to get support for them from the caucus first, including something he’s “very passionate about” that could be announced on Wednesday.
“We need to focus on the big things,” Schultz said, including the impact of growth on energy, water and infrastructure. “The House is the voice of the people. We’re just naturally built to be more reactionary. But we also want to think bigger than that.”
He said the state “is at a crossroads on so many fronts.”
At the same time, Schultz said, “there’s a lot of distrust in government right now. I want the House of Representatives to earn some of that trust back. So that will be a top focus for us as well.”
Lawmakers are also seeing state revenues grow slower than anticipated.
Earlier Tuesday, legislative leaders serving on the Executive Appropriations Committee were told the state saw a nearly $50 million shortfall in the budget year that ended June 30, due to a drop in anticipated income tax collections.
Individual income taxes fell almost 5% short of expectations, while corporate income taxes were more than 6% lower, adding up to a more than $119 million shortfall. At the same time, sales tax collections jumped 10%, almost $70 million above the budgeted amount.
Even with revenues falling short, however, the state still has more than $3 billion in budget reserves, the committee heard. An economic update described the state’s financial situation as moving from boom to balance, with the end of federal COVID-19 funds.