King educates chamber on legislative happenings
As a member of the state legislature, Brad King sometimes is very proud of what the state governing body does.
And other times he just shakes his head at what he considers their shortsightedness.
In a speech to the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 17, he related both kinds of feelings and spoke about the coming legislative session as well.
"Last year was a banner year in terms of money for state government," he told the group. "We had $600 million to work with over what our projections were. However, people need to remember that a lot of that was one-time money and we couldn't spend it on things that may need ongoing funding from year to year."
King said that a lot of that money went to transportation for highway projects that needed to be done. When he mentioned that one of the audience members asked a series of questions about U.S. Highway 6 and when it will be fully funded to become a four lane road from Spanish Fork to Green River.
King explained that while the situation with the road that passes through Carbon County is important, there are many highway priorities and almost every representative at the legislature has one in their own area of representation as well.
"Whenever you talk to representatives from other parts of the state about Highway 6 they are concerned about it's safety and know that it needs to be fixed," he said. "But to everyone but us Highway 6 is the second most important road project in the state."
One of the things King did during his speech was explain to the chamber members where the state government gets its money.
He told the group that the four main ways the state stays afloat financially are income tax (which all goes to education), sales tax (which goes into the general fund), transportation fees and taxes (such as the fuel tax, which is entirely devoted to transportation) and mineral lease monies that come from the extraction of minerals, oil and gas in the state.
Because of the windfall money that came in last year some parts of state government received big increases in the amount of money they had for projects and ongoing operation this last year. Unfortunately, even in surplus times, not every program that needs money gets funded.
"The legislature's priorities are obvious to all of us when we look at what is funded," he said. "The body funded a lot of stuff, but we left out some important programs too. For instance, the vision and dental program for the disabled and very poor is basically gone now," he told the group. "They are the ones that need the help the most and by not funding that, their care will be very limited and later that poor care will show up as bigger, more expensive health problems."
He also pointed out that because of cuts in social programs by the federal government the state has had to take on a much bigger burden than it used to.
"As they cut back, we have to decide which services we can still offer and which we can't," King stated. "That's a hard decision. For instance, the program for home care services for the elderly and sick were cut in half, so a lot of those people will be forced into nursing homes which is much more expensive. I think the decision to do that was very shortsighted."
But he also pointed out that the state has done some positive things with the extra money they have been collecting the last few years.
"The legislature has done two very responsible things," said King. "First, half of every surplus we have had has gone into the rainy day fund the state keeps for years when things aren't so good. That fund is bigger now than it has ever been. Second, in the last three years the state has not borrowed money for any of the buildings it has built. We paid cash for every large capital project and in two or three years we will be totally out of building debt for those constructed by bond sales."
King also brought up a favorite subject of the legislature each year; tax cuts.
"We reduced sales tax on food this last session and that was a good thing because that tax is so regressive," he stated.
A tax is considered regressive when it is a tax that is the same for everyone regardless of income level. For instance people that make over $200,000 per year pay no more tax on the food they eat than someone who makes $7,000 per year. Therefore the poorest of people have to pay the biggest burden based on the ratio of their total income to what food costs.
There is also talk of cuts in income tax by building a two-tier system of taxes with one tier being similar to the tradtional system where credits, tax shelters and tax writeoffs can be used. The other tier would be a flat tax, in which everyone who uses that tier pays their tax based on a certain percentage of their income.
"The governor at one point told us that we wouldn't have a special session on this matter, but I think if he sees the chance to get his income tax proposal through, he will call one." stated King. "The state is projecting a $350 million tax surplus for next year and the governor is looking at about $70 million in cuts."
Whether the governor will call that session remains to be seen. The next regular legislative session begins right after the new year and runs through February.