Summit County’s senators give legislative update | ParkRecord.com

Summit County’s senators give legislative update

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

The Utah State Legislature is feeling more comfortable with its budget predictions, say Summit County’s two state senators. That makes it less likely state-funded organizations will be asked to cut spending further before the 2011 fiscal year begins in July. In addition to the budget, the two senators are focused on a few other issues.

Kevin Van Tassell

Senator Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, whose 26th District includes Park City and South Summit, said the Rainy Day Fund that the legislative leadership is so hesitant to use will be needed to cover shortfalls in the education budget prior to July, and more may be needed for fiscal year 2011.

Frankly, he’s worried about funding for education, he said.

That’s why School Board Equalization (House Bill 129) is at the top of his agenda of bills to fight, Van Tassell said in a Tuesday interview.

His Summit County constituents, including the Park City Board of Realtors, oppose taking money from the local districts to give to other districts.

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"It’s having huge impacts," he said. "Of the five school districts I represent, only one would benefit."

That district would be Duschene, which would get about $500,000 more. But it doesn’t want the money through this means, he said.

"I’ve had conversations with the school district and they’re not in favor of it. I have unified support in opposing this legislation," he said.

Under the proposed formula for determining a high per-capita tax base, Daggett district would lose $50,000. For them, that’s equivalent to a couple million in the Park City district, he said. In addition to Park City, the Wasatch and Uintah school districts would get "hammered," he said.

Van Tassell is also co-chair of the Transportation, Environmental Quality, National Guard and Veteran’s Affairs committee. To stay under budget he said agencies will have to postpone IT improvements and may have to reduce staff.

Allen Christensen

As co-chair of the Health and Human Services committee, Senator Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, whose 19th District includes North Summit, is most concerned with his own tobacco-tax bill Senate Bill 40.

Governor Gary Herbert has said publicly he opposes raising taxes of any kind this year including on tobacco. Christensen said he’s worried about that but still hopes to win a majority of support for it. As part of a compromise, he said he’d be willing to consider a tax offset somewhere else to make the result "revenue neutral."

In a year when state coffers desperately need more money, that seems an odd concession, but Christensen said it would allow the governor to say he didn’t balance the budget with tax increases, while still making it more expensive to buy cigarettes.

"For me it’s 100 percent about health. I don’t care where money goes. I want more people to quit smoking and youngsters to never take it up," he said.

Tobacco lobbyists say smokers drive to towns along state borders whenever cigarette taxes increase, thereby offsetting the benefits. Many of Christensen’s constituents already make regular drives to Evanston, Wyo. to buy groceries. But he doesn’t believe that criticism holds. Many of the states with the highest taxes on tobacco have few problems with people driving out of state, even in states much smaller than Utah.

Christensen also said he kept an eye on the proposed changes to the state’s restaurant taxes. He knew Summit County was adamantly opposed to such changes.

A law Christensen would like to see eliminated is the public access granted to streambeds on private land. In 2008, the Utah Supreme Court ruled fisherman and other people recreating had access to the state’s waterways, including those on private land. Cattlemen and farmers oppose this policy because they say people leave the water to trespass and defecate. Also, the owners are still required to pay taxes on the land over which water flows. If it’s theirs to be taxed, it should be theirs to control. Christensen agrees.

The problem he sees is there is no law on the books allowing what the court said was permissible. Instead of interpreting existing code, the justices made up one.

The 2009 Legislature failed to agree on any bills addressing the problem, and even though there are several logged this year, Christensen said he doubts comprises will be reached. Neither side is willing to budge, the sportsmen have a powerful lobby and the property-rights advocates can’t agree on a bill.

"The landowners have my ear Utah is a private-property state," he said. "It’s a messy problem; I wish I had the solution for it. I’m not strictly for the land owners, but I am strictly against the Supreme Court’s decision."

Few Summit County land owners are more impacted by this issue than Barbara Boineau and her husband owners of River Run Ranch in Wanship. The Weber River is 30 feet or less from their back door.

"Our position would be that when we purchased this property, we understood we had obligation to allow (people fishing) to have access to the river," she said.

The couple has experienced some break-ins and thefts, but attribute it to living in the country and not necessarily the fishing.

In general, people using the river have been "very polite" and parked their vehicles appropriately, Boineau said.

"We haven’t had any problems," she added. "We’re just law-abiding people out here."

She has to pay taxes on the land all the way out to the middle of the river, but said that, too, was explained when she bought the ranch. They could build a fence along the river’s edge if they wanted, but enjoy having access to the river themselves enough to put up with any pitfalls, she said.