Reps. Brown and Johnson both unhappy with party leaderships | ParkRecord.com
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Reps. Brown and Johnson both unhappy with party leaderships

Summit County’s two House representatives, Democrat Christine Johnson and Republican Mel Brown both said they were disappointed in their respective party leaders during the legislative special session called Thursday and Friday to balance the budget.

"I want to be diplomatic about this I respect the efforts made by my own party’s leadership. I would like more leadership," Johnson said Monday.

Her angst comes after a busy 48 hours spent cutting 3 to 5 percent of each agency’s budget to make up an approximate $350 million shortfall in 2008 and 2009 revenues.

Senators Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Curtis Bramble, R-Prove, and John Valentine, R-Orem, led the session and set strategies and priorities for the lawmakers before they arrived.

At one point in the House, one-time money that was going to be taken from the budget for higher education was restored and Brown said he grabbed his chair, Rep. Kory Holdaway, and asked where that money had come from in the first place. Holdaway told Brown he couldn’t know that information.

Information that is supposed to be used in the public’s interest is kept secret, Brown said.

"I said I wasn’t going to tolerate it," he explained.

Johnson described a moment on the House floor when she was just waiting for the Republicans’ closed caucus to conclude and got so frustrated she went in and sat down in the secretive meeting to hear what they were doing.

"There was not an equal dissemination of information," she said. "I’d like to see greater balance."

While she praised the members of her party for making efforts to protect funding for programs they cared about particularly in the departments of health and human services she resented not being able to participate in the creation of a minority proposal.

Brown said he empathized with the sentiment of being excluded.

"It was a frustration for me too," he said.

Even though she was disappointed with her own party’s leadership, and angry with the Republicans for how they conducted the session, ironically Johnson was grateful for the moderation provided by Republican Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Senate president John Valentine thanked the Democratic leaders for their participation in the session and lauded his party’s ability to meet many of the concerns they voiced.

According to Johnson, those concessions only came after intercessions from the governor.

Both Summit County representatives also disagreed with public education being "held harmless" since both could name pet projects they thought were superfluous.

Ironically, Brown said that was the fault of the governor.

"To a degree, I agree with (Johnson). But whose pet projects are you talking about? They’re the governor’s," he said.

While Johnson said she wished her party could have made counter-proposals, Brown said he thought the biggest problem was that by making the cuts in September, it put a larger strain on available money in January.

"It creates a potential problem in the future. When you take one-time money, even if only one percent, and use it for ongoing needs, in order to maintain the budget next session, you will have to put back 4 percent to get back to square one," he explained.

Furthermore, when one-time money is used to fill ongoing budget shortfalls, it creates a need to find that additional money in the future to keep up the on-going funding.

That strategy relies on a belief that the economy will continue to grow, he said. Considering the downturn in Monday’s stock market, that’s a risky plan.

All of that said, Johnson and Brown agree that lawmakers did the best they could in a short amount of time.

That was the summary of Senator Kevin Van Tassell who was highly pleased that the legislature found a way to keep the "rainy day fund" intact.

"Ultimately we had a fairly successful special session. Hopefully we can move forward and fund the growth of the state," he said.

But like Brown, Van Tassell said he’s still nervous about the economy.

"I’m not sure where the economy will feather out and land at," he said.

Van Tassell said the way the session was organized was essential, since there wasn’t more time to allow full consideration of everyone’s concerns.

"If we had started to open up and let everyone defend their projects, we would have been there two weeks," he said.

He was also optimistic that any unresolved problems or major concerns can be resolved when the normal session meets in less than three months.


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