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In taking the new job as Utah House Minority Leader, Brad King will be in the center a lot of issues at the Legislature when the session begins on Jan. 21, 2008.
The state representative will also be very busy. Not that he hasn't been already.
"I now have my own cell phone, a state cell phone and the phone in my office at the college to answer," said King. "For the first time since I had three phones, all three rang the other day at the same time. I am going to be busy."
King, who had served as minority whip for a number of years, now takes on leading the Democratic party in the House. Assuming the position means assignments to more advanced and powerful committees, including the appropriations committee, probably the most powerful committee on capital hill.
On Monday, the governor released his proposed state budget to the media.
And on Tuesday, King was already in Salt Lake meeting with that committee on things the governor has proposed.
|Rep. Brad King|
Money is always the top topic at the legislature, although throughout the session other issues arise, and some things there are bills that are way out there on policy or laws that the legislators must deal with.
"I haven't seen or heard of any of those yet," said King. "But we will, I am sure."
Probably, one of the biggest controversies that will arise in next years session will be how to fund education growth and how much to fund it.
The governor is proposing that public education get $3.7 billion, which is a 6.8 percent increase.
Public education itself takes that largest chunk of funds (31 percent) from the state coffers of any particular category.
The entire proposed budget for next year is $11.7 billion.
But as clear as the numbers seem, there are nuances within the subject of public education that will be addressed during the upcoming session.
One will be fallout from the referendum vote taken in November that kept families who send children to private school from obtaining up to $3,000 in vouchers per year toward the tuition.
"Each year, we have about 800 bills introduced into the legislative session," said King as he looked at the utah.gov website that lists the bills that will be considered. "Look at this screen. A hundred bills just in the area of public education. At least some of those will either directly or indirectly deal with some of what happened during the election."
Other controversies will stem from how to fund education.
|The state's $11.7 billion budget is divided up to fund numerous public services, agencies and programs. However, public and higher education institutions combined continue to take more than one-half of the total revenues, totaling 57.3 percent of the total budget. |
Public Education 43%
Higher Education 14%
Corrections (Adult/Juvenile) 5.9%
Human Services 4.9%
Commerce and revenue/workforce services 2.5%
The system primarily is funded by the weighted pupil unit (a school district gets so much per student that attends one of their schools) and by local property taxes.
Some legislators would like to get rid of local property taxes to fund schools and move to a sales tax base. However that isn't the only proposal.
On the other side, some legislators would like to see property taxes fund more of the public school operations.
"Supposedly, there are 14 bills being worked on in these areas," said King. "Hopefully some of these are circuit breaker bills to help those on fixed incomes."
Another aberration left over from 2007's unprecedented increases to education is the direct to teacher raises the legislature basically gave last year.
For the first time in recent memory or maybe ever, the legislature directed school districts to take a chunk of money and give it directly to teachers for raises rather than allowing districts to negotiate with teachers on that money, as they have in the past.
"I worry about the legislature becoming a super school board," said King. "I think the move will be to put increases in the money into the WPU and let the districts deal with it next year."
There is one bill involving education King said he is very concerned about.
The legislation could hurt Carbon and Emery school districts.
"The bill basically moves capital money to only the fastest growing districts and kind of forgets about buildings that are aging in stable or declining growth districts," indicated the state representative. "That means most of that kind of money would be sucked up by the Wasatch Front."
The front on higher education is very quiet this year with the governors budget increasing money slightly for the entire state.
"Most of the emphasis is on recruiting excellent faculty and then keeping them, particularly highly specialized employees," said King. "The governor also wants the legislature to address the problem of the colleges producing enough teachers to staff the public schools."
The state was short about 200 teachers on the opening day of public school at the beginning of the 2007-2008 year. Shortages are due to teachers who are retiring or leaving the state.
King said that no buildings were recommended for construction this year in the higher education budget.
Editors note: Today's story is the first of two articles concerning Representative Brad King's view on legislative action that will be upcoming beginning in January.