Local legislators dish on the 2018 session and what’s on the horizon
Rep. Tim Quinn gives a summary of the legislative session to the Park City Council on Thursday evening.
With the end of the Utah Legislature’s 2018 session on March 8, many of the state’s part-time lawmakers will get a second to breathe before going into campaign mode. The Park Record caught up with four of Park City and Summit County’s representatives to get their thoughts on the session and what lies ahead.
Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber
For Tim Quinn, a fiscal conservative, 2018 in the Capitol was a bit of a mixed bag.
“I was a little frustrated with the fact that we raised taxes in a year that we had $640M worth of additional revenue,” Quinn said. “I was frustrated with the education equalization funding. It hurt both of the (school) districts I represent.”
Park City and Wasatch County’s school districts are two of the wealthiest in the state, and opponents of the education plan said they believed it hurts wealthier districts more than it helps less-wealthy districts.
However, Quinn was encouraged by the progress on his unorthodox plan to eliminate the state grocery tax — it passed the House by a healthy margin before being struck down in a Senate committee. Quinn noted as he spoke to the Park City Council Thursday night that, with several Senate seats up for grabs this fall, another effort in the next session could go differently.
At that same meeting, Park City Councilors — whose politics often clash with conservatives on Capitol Hill — offered up praise to the Republican representative for sticking to his guns on local control. Quinn, who does not agree with Park City’s ban on plastic bags, nonetheless led the charge against a proposed statewide ban on policies like the one in place within city limits.
Going forward, Quinn has a campaign to attend to. Two Democratic Parkites, Meaghan Miller and Roberto Lopez, are running to unseat the Heber-based business owner. Whoever his opponent turns out to be, he said he’s looking forward to the process.
“(I’ll) let mine and my opponent’s arguments be shared, and I think the voters will be able to make a very distinct decision between the two of us.”
Rep. Logan Wilde,R-Croydon
Health initiatives took center stage for Wilde during the session. The late debate over Medicaid expansion resulted in the passage of a bill covering people making 95 percent of the federal poverty line as well as including work requirements and other criteria. The conversation isn’t over, however, as the state waits for the Trump administration’s approval of the plan and an alternative ballot initiative that would cover more people, Utah Decides, picks up steam.
“It would be a huge cost to go from where we are right now, (95 percent), to 138 percent,” Wilde said of Utah Decides’ plan. “That is the part that we struggle with, trying to come up with the funding.”
Wilde was also pleased with the amount of progress made on affordable housing in the state and said he thinks Summit County and Park City have made headway on the issue themselves. The representative passed legislation requiring local governments to plan for expansion of moderate-income housing.
“It was a collaborative effort,” Wilde said. “We had a lot of partners come together.”
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden
Overall, Christensen said it was a successful session.
“We got rid of some ridiculous bills and proposals, and we passed some really good ones too along the way,” Christensen said, pointing to Kanab Republican Rep. Mike Noel’s proposal to name the Utah National Parks Highway after Donald Trump as one “far out” piece of legislation.
Christensen said one bill he’s proud of passing is the creation of financial incentives for engaged couples to undergo premarital counseling before receiving a marriage license. According to the Utah Department of Health, the state’s divorce rate remains above the U.S. average.
The senator remains skeptical of the bevy of ballot measures seeking a vote in the fall, saying policymaking should be left up to the legislators who have spent time debating measures.
“The Legislature has voted down all six of those, we don’t want them, we’re more informed than the general public is and every one of them would be a disaster,” Christensen said. “That’s my biggest worry over the interim, that one or more of those initiatives should pass.”
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal
Van Tassell announced well before the session began that it would be his last dance in Salt Lake. With a new wealth of free time, the banker plans on catching up on some fishing.
“Three times in 12 years isn’t enough, and I’ve got a bunch of grandkids I want to be able to do that with,” Van Tassell said.
The senator closed out his time in the Legislature laying groundwork for future action on a number of issues, including the state’s youth suicide crisis and calling for research into postoperative opioid deaths. On a local level, he worked on funding Park City’s preparations for Salt Lake City’s future Winter Olympics bid.
Now that the session is over, though, Van Tassell said he plans on taking a year before going on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission. After that, he plans on remaining in the Vernal area, sitting on organizations’ boards, promoting tourism and working with transportation policy.
As for who will succeed him in the seat, a crowded field, including three Parkites, will vie to represent the massive district, which spans from the Wasatch Back to the border with Colorado. Van Tassell said that anyone serving as senator for the 26th district will need to contend with its size and diversity of interests.
“You’ve got to be able to work with all issues and concerns,” Van Tassell said, before relaying a piece of advice former Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie gave him. “If you work the middle, you’ll get a lot done, and I think we got a lot done.”
Although current statewide reservoir levels are nearly the same as last year, they continue to drop. Reservoir storage statewide is around 43%, compared to 48% in early September. Thirty-five of the state’s 47 reservoirs are below 55% available capacity.
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