Utah’s Legislature rocks! And I mean that. It is phenomenally effective, filled with outstanding public servants, and serves Utahns well. As I complete my six years of service here, and as we look ahead to the 2023 legislative session and beyond, I am confident in Utah’s lawmakers.
Phenomenally effective? You bet. Utah’s Legislature has one of the shortest sessions in the country — seven weeks. This sprint forces the most important issues to be distilled and prioritized. Year-round legislatures with their large staff, like California, Michigan, New York and others, have time on their hands to dream up new taxes and regulations.
The short session also allows for a true citizen legislature. Each January, doctors, real estate agents, teachers, engineers, attorneys, accountants, retirees and more come together from every corner of the state. Such a variety of professions brings real-world perspectives to committee meetings and floor debates.
We pass laws to make Utah a better place and then return home to our communities to live with the laws that we just passed. Jefferson and Madison would be proud!
For example, I’ve been able to help create mental health days for students, a bonus program for the most effective teachers in high poverty schools, and the first commissioner of apprenticeship programs in the nation. I’ve enjoyed working to support the Jordan River Parkway and to help Utah adopt an earned income tax credit.
The Utah Legislature balances the state budget each year (unlike our federal counterparts) and every single legislator, including the newest freshman, is on an appropriations committee. Each budget committee scrutinizes their respective section of the state budget, with recommendations rolling up through legislative leadership and into the annual budget.
Outstanding public servants? Absolutely. I truly believe that every legislator that I’ve served with in the past six years — regardless of party — is well intentioned, extremely hardworking and here for the right reasons.
Does this mean I agree with them all of the time?
Of course not.
But I can appreciate that Rep. Joel Briscoe in Salt Lake City has a different constituency, background and political philosophy than Rep. Phil Lyman in Blanding. Part of the magic to getting things done on Utah’s Capitol Hill is by better understanding where people are coming from and looking for ways to help deliver win-wins. You also quickly learn that a foe on one of your bills may be a valiant co-sponsor on your next bill.
Nobody is getting rich up here (the pay is $15,000 or so per year), and in addition to the 45-day session, everyone is spending countless hours in meetings with stakeholders and constituents, along with interim day committee meetings throughout the year. I have an especial appreciation for legislators who live off the Wasatch Front and spend their weekdays living in a hotel during the session away from their families.
The rigors of balancing legislative work in a citizen legislature with professional and personal life also leads to an average tenure in Utah’s House of only six years. One can argue about the merits of term limits with the federal legislative branch, but on Utah’s Capitol Hill there is enough natural attrition that there are always fresh faces and new ideas.
Serving Utah well? I wouldn’t trade places with any other state.
Utah has the nation’s top economy, is one of the best states to find a job, and is the No. 1 state for the middle class. We handled the COVID-19 pandemic better than anyone else, and are one of the best states in the nation for racial equality in civic engagement. Despite our growth, we have seen significant reductions in statewide air emissions.
We are the No. 2 best state in the nation for teachers, and Utah’s students have the second-highest SAT scores and highest ACT scores in the country. In health care, Utah has the cheapest health care premiums and the lowest health care costs in the nation.
Challenges remain, of course — affordable housing, water conservation, education funding and more — but Utah should be proud of a system that works.
Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, completes his six years in the Utah House of Representatives on Dec. 31, 2022.