Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Saga of the Cigarette Tax

SB 114 by Sen. Christensen is the Senate bill that will raise the tax on cigarettes. It was unexpectedly routed to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, rather than Senate Health and Human Services, and its supporters feared that it would die in committee. But during Friday's committee meeting, the bill was passed out by Sen. John Valentine. He will be amending the bill on the Senate floor to lower the rate from $3 to $1.30/pack. Rep. Ray has a competing bill in the House and now observers will be watching to see if the upcoming Senate version has a better chance of passing the House. With the support of the Governor, it seems likely that some version of the tax increase will get through this session.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Senator plugged his ears

Evidently freshman Sen. Dan Liljenquist was not listening to Gov. Huntsman’s State of the State address on Tuesday evening when he said, “Every person in this chamber is motivated by our state’s success. Our discussion should be conducted with civility, respect and a recognition of the challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves.”

Today’s scenario:
  • 15% reduction for the 2010 Dept. of Human Services budget
  • 4 hour meeting
  • no dinner
  • freezing committee room
Granted, these conditions could make anyone testy and, possibly, downright mean. However, elected officials have a responsibility to conduct themselves with civility and respect.

Especially two days after the Governor from your own party reminds you to play nice.

And especially if you’re a freshman Senator who is traditionally expected to be seen and not heard during the first year of your term.

Sen. Liljenquist repeatedly pounded DHS director, Lisa-Michele Church, today about budget cuts, until finally the gentlemanly Sen. Allen Christensen said he was embarrassed and disgusted at the accusatory tone from the committee and the bashing of "the best department head we have in this state". He moved to adjourn in order to cut short the bloodshed, only to have the motion defeated. He walked out of the committee. Did this pointed behavior from a senior Senator discourage Senator Dan? No way. He continued to hammer Ms. Church until House Minority Leader David Litvack pointedly said after an exchange with the Senator, “The most important lesson my father ever taught me was this: It's not what you say, it's how you say it."

Sen. Liljenquist finally realized that he was out of order and apologized to Ms. Church but she had stepped out of the committee room to compose herself. He promised to apologize to her personally.

Thanks for the apology, Senator, but it was too little, too late.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Spy: former legislators lobbying

There is an ethics reform package coming in the Utah Legislature that includes a ban on former lobbyists for one year after they leave office. Fortunately for 2008 alumni, it won't affect them. This is good news for Mark Walker, new lobbyist for IHC, and Greg Curtis, new lobbyist for Big Tobacco. They have been seen roaming the halls of the Capitol during the first two days of the session, discussing issues with current legislators.

Ethics reform-it can't come too soon!