State budget projections up by about $400M

The Salt Lake Tribune

After years of austerity and budget slashing, Utah lawmakers will have several hundred million dollars to spend this year. But a long list of demands and deferred programs could eat up any extra money.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office announced the revenue projections Monday: An estimated $280 million from taxes on a growing economy, plus a one-time surplus of $128 million.

“When you consider what is happening nationally or in other states, the steady drum beat of positive economic news in Utah is certainly encouraging,” Herbert, who will release his budget proposal next month, said in a statement.

Despite the good economic news, the swelling budget will just barely cover an estimated $280 million growth in state programs, according to Ron Bigelow, the governor’s budget director.

“We’re going to try and fund a few little things here and there, but if you take health and human services and education, there’s not going to be a whole lot left over,” Bigelow said.

About 12,500 new students are expected to enter Utah schools, costing the state about $50 million. Enrollment in health insurance for children and the poor is growing, with costs for that program and services for people with disabilities expected to grow by between $100 million and $140 million, as well.

The state has also funded ongoing programs with about $52 million of money that will lapse at the end of the year. Filling that gap is a top priority with the new money.

The Legislature’s projected growth list is even longer, including $53 million in building maintenance and another $50 million in extra education costs.

Add in things like state employee health care and pension costs, which are expected to increase, and the list of programs that had to be funded could reach $500 million.

Last legislative session, lawmakers carved millions out of various program budgets, only to restore that money and an additional $263 million to the $12 billion state budget — still about $1 billion smaller than two years prior.

“We have good, steady growth, which is actually very positive,” Bigelow said. “There’s enough positive there that we still feel very comfortable with these numbers.”

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she is “cautiously optimistic,” because the numbers are only projections and vulnerable to changes in national trends.

“So much of what the federal government does affects our economy, things we don’t have control over, so we have to be really cautious about these numbers at this point,” she said.

Utah is also facing a debt crunch, nosing past 85 percent of the constitutional cap. So lawmakers are looking at using cash for about $85 million in projects instead of bonding to draw down that debt. Some of the $120 million surplus would be most likely used for those projects.

Lockhart said the chances are “probably pretty good” that the debt reduction will happen. “We’re pretty frugal about that,” she said. “We like to be able to pay for buildings and infrastructure with cash.”

Currently, there is about $1,200 in state debt for every resident, a total driven up by the billion-dollar Interstate-15 project in Utah County.

Unions Yesterday and Today

A labor union is an organization of workers who have joined together to achieve common goals in areas such as wages and working conditions. The union negotiates with employers, keeping employee satisfaction high and protecting workers from unsafe or unfair working conditions.

Union history traces back to the guild system in Europe that sought to protect certain professions by controlling of skill mastery and advancement. Although the relationship between guilds and unions is not perfectly linear, and is therefore sometimes disputed, guilds as the forerunners of unions makes sense – it is the first example of workers organizing according to their own rules rather than those of their employer.

The industrial revolution during the eighteenth century in Europe prompted a new surge of new workers to enter the job market that had previously remained at home and now needed representation. In the United States, early workers and trade unions played an important part in the role for independence. Although their physical efforts for the cause of independence were ineffective, the ideas they introduced, such as protection for workers, stuck in American culture.

Trade unions really exploded in the United States during the nineteenth century with the founding of the first national union, the National Labor Union. It was created in 1866 and was not exclusive to any particular kind of worker. Although this union crumbled and made no significant gains for workers’ rights, its founding was an important precedent.

Next, the Knights of Labor was founded in 1869. Their membership peaked around 700,000 members, with some of their key issues being child labor opposition and demands for an eight-hour day.

The most famous American union was probably the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers. At its pinnacle, the union had about 1.4 million members. The AFL’s working principle was “pure and simple” unionism, which sought immediate work environment improvements such as wage increases and enhanced safety within the workplace.

In the Mid 70’s Union reached their peak in the United States with about 1 out of every 3 workers belonging to a union.

Today, unions still serve the same purposes for which they were originally founded. Current union agendas include ending child labor, increasing wages, raising the standard of living for the working class, and providing more benefits to both workers and their families.

There is an unprecedented attack on Unions.  Politicians, Business Owners, and Mass Media are making claims that Union are taking employers hostage.  If you look though History, this is just untrue.  The facts are that Unions are taking concessions through this recession.  There are some who even blame the recession on Unions.  .

To understand why there is such an attack on Unions, we have to follow the money from the 1970’s when Unions we are their high in the US.

Data from the United States Department of Commerce, CBO, and Internal Revenue Service indicate that income inequality has been increasing significantly since the late 1970s.  After several decades of stability.  A CBO study in 2011 found that the top 1% of wealthy Americans gained about 275% over a period between 1979 and 2007, although this number has decreased somewhat since 2007 as a result of the Great Recession. The increase is far above other income levels, especially the bottom 80%, whose share of national income growth declined over this period.

So when you follow the money, you can see that as Unions gained popularity, the economy was stable.  As the working class earned a fair wage, they would spend more and keep local economies thriving, therefore a stronger economy all around.

During the George W Bush administration they understood this and in an effort to keep the economy thriving they would send out “Stimulus checks” to all workers Americans knowing they in turn would spend in their communities.

If you understand all this, you can see that the reason for these attacks on Unions today is to take away the voice from the working class causing more money to be diverted to the owners, investors, and CEOs and away from those who are doing the work.

As the current trend continues it takes more money out of the communities where the working class live.  It affects everyone in that community.  Learning from history and ignoring the propaganda it shows a clear path to economic stability in America.  By allowing workers to form and join Unions it creates a balance of wealth needed to make America Strong.

Snelgrove to run for mayor; Winder still ‘exploring’

The Salt Lake Tribune

Richard Snelgrove believes his success as a small-business man and his extensive background in Republican politics make him the best candidate to be Salt Lake County’s next mayor.

A potential rival for that job, West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, said Monday he has not ruled out the possibility of a run despite the furor that arose after he admitted writing pro-West Valley City newspaper articles under a fake name for the Deseret News and other publications.

“It’s an option we’re still considering and exploring,” Winder said, declining to elaborate.

Winder’s problems could ease Snelgrove’s pursuit of the county mayor’s post being vacated by Democrat Peter Corroon, who will not seek a third term next November.

Snelgrove, a year into a six-year term as an at-large County Council member, expects to announce his candidacy formally next week. But his Facebook page gave away his plan, with the words “County Mayor 2012” appearing above his picture last week.

So far, his only Republican opponent is County Recorder Gary Ott.

Winder quit his public-relations job with The Summit Group last week after revelations he published 13 articles under the pseudonym Richard Burwash. Winder said he was trying to balance the negative press coming out of West Valley City after the Deseret News reduced civic coverage, but not crime news, because of a staff layoff.

Two Democrats are seeking to succeed Corroon — state Sens. Ross Romero and Ben McAdams.

“It’s a long time between now and the March filing deadline, but I believe I have an excellent chance to capture the [Republican] nomination and win next November,” Snelgrove said. “We’ll be running hard, running to win.”

He is not critical of the way the county has been run since it became a mayor-council form of government in 2001.

“Mayor Corroon and his team, and his predecessor Nancy Workman, have been able and competent managers,” Snelgrove said. “We’ve attained and maintained a AAA bond rating. … But that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement.”

For instance, Snelgrove pointed to his current efforts to require Salt Lake County bond votes to be held in general-election years as evidence of the “thrifty and frugal” principles he espoused in a 22-year career as a businessman.

“A bond is a tax increase. It affects 100 percent of property owners,” he said. “In fairness, it should only go on the ballot in general-election years when voter turnout and participation is highest. That gives the most transparency, accountability to the voters.”

Snelgrove also advocated opening the county’s processes for procuring equipment and services, as well as the disposal of surplus property, to auction sites. Having an open mind about all of the options available, he added, could help save the county money.

That kind of thinking has enabled Snelgrove to “start three separate companies, all successful,” he said.

His primary business these days is Snelgrove Travel Centers Inc., which has an office in Layton and arranges cruises and ski vacations in Utah, Colorado, California and Wyoming through six websites.

State workers make less than counterparts

The Salt Lake Tribune

Two human resource workers could do roughly the same job — one for the state and one in the private sector — but when their paycheck comes, chances are the state worker’s check would be 20 percent less.

The study, commissioned by the state Department of Human Resource Management, has state officials and legislators asking whether it’s time to change the “mix” between salary and benefits.

“On the whole, I think in total compensation, the state is doing OK. What I hope is we can use this data to analyze the mix,” said Jeff Herring, director of state human resources. “We’re over the average in benefits, we’re under the average in salary and I think the next dialogue needs to be about how to [craft] the best policy to attract and retain workers.”

On average, state workers earn about $45,000 a year, about $9,000 a year below the median salary for private sector workers doing comparable work.

With Utah’s benefits factored in — which were better than three-fourths of the private sector employers — the total compensation for a state worker came to $76,287, compared to the median private sector of $82,547.

The study found that the more the state workers made, the narrower the gap between the public and private sector, whereas the gap was much wider for state workers at the lower end of the pay scale.

That could make it harder for the state to recruit or retain young workers, who might not be swayed by a good benefits package and could make considerably more in the private sector, said Neville Kenning, vice president of public sector consulting for the Hay Group, which conducted the study.

Kory Cox, an employee relations representative with the Utah Public Employees Association, said the study highlights the need for the state to start addressing the salary disparity as the economy recovers.

“Salary is on the top of everyone’s list,” Cox said is the message he hears from state workers.

Those employees last got a pay raise in 2008, they’re paying more for their health benefits and pension benefits for new workers have changed, but the study shows there is a real gap that needs to be addressed.

But Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, said he doubted the validity of the study.

“It seems like we paid a lot of money to high-priced consultants to get the answers Human Resources wanted,” Dougall said.

He said the study compared state workers’ salaries to other “bloated government agencies and big business.”

“From what I was presented, I don’t believe it fairly represents the Utah employment market,” Dougall said. “I don’t have the sense it was a fair study.”

State Sen. Ben McAdams officially enters race for Salt Lake County mayor

SALT LAKE CITY — State Sen. Ben McAdams is expected to announce Monday he’s running for Salt Lake County mayor.

McAdams, first appointed to the Legislature in December 2009 to fill the vacancy left when former Sen. Scott McCoy resigned to focus on his legal career, would be the second Democrat in the race.

Current Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.

Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, announced his bid for county mayor in September. Romero said Friday it would be disappointing to be challenged by his legislative colleague.

“Unfortunately, the Democratic community is very small,” Romero said. “I would suggest that competition for one office can be healthy, but in this environment, where there are so few of us, running for the same office obviously presents a strain.”

SALT LAKE CITY — State Sen. Ben McAdams formally announced his candidacy for Salt Lake County mayor on Monday, saying he will file with the county clerk Monday afternoon and start campaigning with a telephone town hall at 6 p.m.

McAdams describes himself as a bridge builder who can run in a partisan race but leave partisanship behind and work with all levels of government if elected mayor. “There are some tough challenges in the county and I want to be part of the solution,” he said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, also a Democrat, is not seeking re-election after serving two terms. “There is no party favorite in this race. I think that’s good for voters,” he said.

McAdams said he first started paying attention to the race after deputy Mayor Nicole Dunn, also a Democrat, decided not to run. McAdams said he decided about two weeks ago he would enter the race after talking with his family.

McAdams, like fellow candidate and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, faces fundraising restrictions while the Utah Legislature is in session.

“I’m confident I can raise the money I need to before and after the session,” he said, adding that he would not consider resigning from the Senate to campaign. “I’m not going to stop doing the work of the people just to raise money.”

McAdams said he has strong bipartisan relationships illustrated by his ability to pass 11 of 22 bills he introduced in the last session of the Legislature. He said top concerns for the county include air quality problems, the current and potential business community and a slipping quality of education. He also pointed to his former job as senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker as a tie that would give him the ability to promote intergovernmental ties.

In recent issues, McAdams said he supported the $25 million bond proposal that would have transformed the Granite High School campus into a recreation and civic center. The bond failed during last Tuesday’s municipal election, but by only 11 votes, leaving the official outcome somewhat up in the air.

McAdams said the center would preserve open space and be important to the identity of the South Salt Lake community, which is in his legislative district, though he doesn’t expect the official canvas of ballots to change the outcome.

McAdams said he is aware of a current political controversy in county government, where County Auditor Gregory P. Hawkins is strongly resisting a consultant’s proposal that his office give up a role as budget officer to the county mayor’s office. Corroon supports the change. McAdams said he has not taken a position in that fight.

McAdams was elected last year to his first four-year term after being appointed in December 2009 to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Scott McCoy, who resigned to focus on his legal career. McAdams is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been active in the party’s effort to recruit Mormon voters and helped bring together members of the church and the gay community on a city antidiscrimination ordinance.

McAdams joins fellow Democrat Romero and Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott, a Republican, in the campaign. Other Republicans known to be eying the race are West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder and Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove.

Sam Granato, a former chairman of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, is the third Democrat mentioned as a possible candidate in the race.

McAdams said Romero was one of the first people he contacted after formally deciding to enter the race. Acknowledging Romero was not happy to have an in-party challenger, McAdams said the race is wide open. “My response to him was that this won’t be divisive.”

The Utah native is a graduate of the University of Utah, and he and his wife, Julie, graduated from the Columbia University Law School and practiced law in New York City before deciding to move back to Utah. “We had twins and decided Utah was the place to raise our family,” he said.

The McAdams family now includes mixed twins, age 6, and a 3-year-old boy and a 4-month-old boy.

McAdams, 36, is also an adjunct law school faculty member at the University of Utah. He said anyone interested in joining in on his telephone town hall can contact him at benmcadams@gmail.com.

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