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More Dogs on Main Street

As Sundance winds up, I always like to see if I can find an overriding theme to the festival. Each year has a unique stamp on things. This year, with the parking situation in town particularly difficult because of our ongoing construction festival, I have to admit that traffic was not as bad as I had expected. Festival patrons really took advantage of the bus system, and while the streets were clogged all over town, it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. So hats off to the bus riders.

Speaking of hats, if there was a theme this year, that’s it — hats. Some years, the fashion theme is giant scarves in colors that could only exist as a result of some terrible chemical accident. This year, the scarves took a back seat to goofy hats. This was definitely the year of the goofy hat, ranging from taxidermy projects to beanies in painful colors. The elfin beanie with the brim is popular because it carries all the stoner insolence of a beanie with the gangster attitude of a baseball hat worn sideways. If you don’t have a goofy looking hat, you aren’t getting into the "A-list" parties.

The goofy hat of choice at the State Legislature is always the traditional dunce cap. Yes, the State Legislature is back in session. Our system is set up with the goal of having a "citizen legislature," which, in the most optimistic version of things, means that well informed, community service-minded citizens set aside their personal business to share their collected wisdom in guiding the affairs of our state. In reality, it seems to be a collection of uninformed folks getting together to try to impose their petty grievances on the rest of us. The session only lasts 45 days, which has the effect of limiting the damage.

At a time when the state’s population is soaring and we are faced with sprawl from the Wasatch Front to St. George, you would think they would be looking at trying to protect the quality of life, dealing with air and water quality and other environmental issues, basic transportation, education and so on. You would be wrong, but that’s probably a good thing considering how much harm they can do when they really put their minds to it.

One of the big issues facing the legislature is a proposal by Rep. Howard Stephenson to change the way U.S. Senators are elected. In the early days of the republic, U.S. Senators were appointed by the state legislatures, while members of the House of Representatives were elected by the people. For obvious reasons, the state legislators had a fair amount of control over what the senators did and got a pretty good cut of the bribe money. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution changed that, and called for direct election of U.S. Senators. The senate is still a cesspool of corruption, but the state legislatures are on their own. It’s worked for about 100 years.

Despite the U.S. Constitution, Stephenson wants to change that, at least to the extent that the state legislature gets to nominate the candidates for U.S. Senate. Given our Soviet-style, one-party rule in Utah, that means the Republican would always win, and the Democratic nominee would always be somebody fished out of the homeless shelter with outstanding felony warrants in six states. Is this guy a statesman or what?

Rep. Peggy Wallace wants to save us all from unhappy marriages by making it more expensive and difficult to get a divorce. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have gone through bitter, painful and psychologically damaging divorces who said afterward, "well, if only state had intervened and the filing fees had been $50 higher, I think Marge and I could have worked things out."

Everybody likes the idea of taking sales tax off food, and with a billon dollar surplus, there seems to be room to do that. But after that proposal worked its way pretty deeply into the process (it’s been in the hearing process for over a year), somebody woke up and realized that most of the cities and towns in Utah have sold bonds to borrow against future sales tax income. For many cities, the local grocery stores are the bulk of the sales tax income. No sales tax on food; no way to pay off the bonds. Oops! Of course there is the possibility of removing only the state’s portion of the sales tax on food, letting the cities and towns continue to collect the portion they have in the past. But that would be too easy. Say farewell to tax reform for this year.

Senator Al Mansell, who is the realtor’s representative in the state house, has decided that zoning gets in the way of deals, and has proposed a bill that basically eliminates it. Cities could re-zone 25 percent of their territory at a time. On smaller parcels, the bill says the city would have to "conform to the request of the landowner." So if somebody wanted to build, say a pig farm, next door to, let’s say Al Mansell’s house, the city planning administrators would have to approve it. Somehow this is supposed to be good for real estate prices.

Amidst all this stupidity, let us not forget Intelligent Design. Chris Buttars, the leading moralist in the legislature, is hell bent on making sure that science teachers in the public schools have to say something about intelligent design when teaching biology. The wording keeps shifting, but the end result would be that science teachers have to digress into a Sunday school curriculum long enough to leave the message that we didn’t evolve from no apes. The mere suggestion of such a thing is a serious insult to apes.

But if they do enough stupid things to keep us near the top of the national list of weird places, there may an unintended benefit in terms of managing growth.


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