Small towners get their day at the state legislature
For the second year in a row the state legislature hosted Rural Legislative Day.
And for the second year in a row it was a chance for rural officials and business people to mingle with lawmakers and other state government officials at the Capitol for the day.
Carbon County had a good contingent of people at the dome for the day. They also set up a booth in the rotunda for the legislators and others to see, so those people could learn more about the county, the businesses and the tourism opportunities.
The day began with the Rural Legislative Caucus, which while held every Friday morning during the regular session of the legislature, was more heavily attended than usual because of the number of rural participants. The caucus was created so that rural legislators can hear about concerns and look at legislation from other rural parts of the state and discuss them. Each caucus has a number of rural concerns that present their causes to the caucus.
The caucus can vary depending on attendance on any particular day from 18-20 state senators and representatives. Included in that group are Sen. David Hinkins and Rep. Christine Watkins, both from the local area.
The presentations on Friday consisted of Carbon's own Superintendent Steve Carlsen presenting the concept of "nest" schools; schools that are small and in need of help. Nest schools are not necessarily only in small districts, but are often in isolated areas in larger districts.
"What we are looking for are equal opportunities for the students in these kinds of schools," said Carlsen to the caucus. "The academic opportunities they have are diminished."
Others presented on such issues as what the state classifies as rural and what the state is facing in what is termed regional haze issues (air pollution) and upcoming regulation concerning that area of environmentalism.
Later that morning the general session for the Rural Day was held. The speakers included Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, Gov. Gary Herbert, and various legislators.
Bell welcomed the guests which filled the small auditorium and he introduced the governor. Herbert's main comments were related to economic growth, a main theme of his administration.
Governor wants more funds for BEAR
"When I was a kid my father one day said to me 'Gary, everything you see around you, everything you use or eat comes from the earth. We either mine it or we grow it,'" he told the audience. "I think we need to be laser-like in pursuing economic development in Utah."
Herbert went on to comment on about various issues concerning Utah's growth and stature in the nation. He pointed out how the BEAR program (Business Expansion and Retention, that started in Carbon County) has been helping counties all over the state.
"We need to put more money into the BEAR program to help to grow and expand businesses from within rather than recruit from without," he said.
He also brought up highway construction and remodeling. He said he was recently visiting Texas and was in a helicopter with some officials planning a highway and when he asked them how they laid out new highways. He said they just looked at the area involved from the air and made a straight line from one place to another.
75 percent public land
He brought up the fact to them that that couldn't be done in Utah because of the geography, but that also any road that was to be built had to be cleared through many channels because of the amount of public land that would need to be crossed in most places. The Texas officials apparently thought that was pretty funny because Texas only has two or three percent of its land that is public; the rest is private. In Utah the states percentage is near 75 percent.
"I asked them to guess how much public land we had in Utah and after I told them we had a lot they started out at about 20 percent," he said. "I laughed and told them higher. When they got to about 60 percent, they called me a liar and asked, 'How would you get anything done with that much pubic land to deal with?" I told them 'Bingo. That's the challenge in Utah.'"
Herbert went on to talk about how the state has been dealing with federal public land and said Utah has three arrows in its quiver to fight the battle.
"We have negotiation, we have county by county plans that can be worked out and made effective by Congressional legislation or we have litigation," he stated.
He also pointed out that he thought the federal governments tactics on RS 2477 roads was unconscionable and that Resource Management Plans need to be documents that could be trusted, rather than be changed every time a new administration comes into power.
Don't change rules
"Industry can live with the rules if they know what they are," he said. "The rules can't be a moving target."
The governor also talked about state parks (most of which are in rural areas) and the cuts they have had to absorb in the last two years. He said he is committed to keeping them open no matter what.
"The parks need to be kept open even if they are not profitable," he told the group.
The session concluded with a number of legislators from rural areas speaking to the group including Rep. Christine Watkins and she spoke about land issues too.
'We understand land'
"There are a number of people who say we aren't good enough and smart enough to manage the land around where we live," she stated. "They are wrong. We are the ones that understand it and live with it."
After the morning session there was a luncheon in the rotunda of the capitol building at which those attending sat and ate with many state legislators and executive branch representatives. Then rural participants got to meet with a number of legislators about issues.
"I thought it was a complete success," said Carbon County Economic Development Director Delynn Fielding. "There were over 200 people attending and we got to contact a lot of legislators about things we are concerned about."
Fielding also said that he was satisfied because in the afternoon the BEAR representatives from Carbon were able to get information sheets to a number of legislators about the program and how it has been working.
That program has now expanded across the state and is operating in several counties.