UCC Special Report, April 12, 2023
The Management of the COVID Pandemic: How Does the State of Utah Measure Up?
Link to full report.
Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 5, June 28, 2022
Is Conservative Utah Embracing Environmental Conservation?
First, let’s review what Utah legislators did and did not do for the environment this year. Our epic drought got their attention, so they rewarded water conservation (HB 121), required metering of secondary water (HB 242), allocated $40 million temporary funding to keep Great Salt Lake from disappearing (HB 410), and made selling Utah Lake to developers more difficult (HB 240). HB 145 improved preparation for wildfires, SB 136 encouraged reduction of diesel pollution, SB 140 encouraged high-density housing near TRAX stations, and SB 152 reduced the limits that HOAs (homeowners’ associations) can place on electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and low-water landscaping.
All eight of these bills passed with huge bipartisan majorities, and only a handful of legislators opposed them. In the past, voting on environmental bills was far less unified.
Could it be that concern for the environment is growing among our legislators, reflecting public concern for an endangered earth? To see how Salt Lake County and Utah County legislators voted on these bills, see Appendices to this policy brief.
Decrease Fossil Fuel Use with a Carbon Fee and Dividend
A more skeptical assessment of our legislators’ newfound environmental consensus is that few controversial environmental bills made it out of committee for floor votes, and many important proposals were killed early.
Examples of the above include proposed “carbon” fees on fossil fuels with various compensation “dividends” to Utahns affected by the increases, as in HJR 3 and SB 187 The principle of both bills is widely accepted by both Republican and Democratic experts as the best way to reduce pollution and climate change: tax the offending fuels gradually to reduce their use, but simultaneously reduce another tax, as on groceries. This is captured by the slogan “Tax pollution, not potatoes.”
If we want the market to support good environmental policy, prices must reflect reality. At present they do not. The enormous costs of pollution and climate change caused by fossil fuel use—earlier death, pulmonary and cardiovascular damage, wildfires, drought, floods, tornadoes—are not reflected in fossil fuel prices. Economists call these externalities, to which the consumer is blinded. Exposing those costs with some sort of carbon fee as proposed in SB 187 would help the market work for and not against the world in which our children and grandchildren will live.
Update Our Outdated Residential Building Code
Highest on our legislators’ to-do list should be updating our residential building code, which is fifteen years out of date. Community members and legislators should support adoption of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for Utah because that will significantly reduce residents’ monthly utility bills as well as air pollution.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that building to the IECC residential standards rather than to our current outdated code would cost only modestly more per house and reduce each house’s energy costs by 17%, saving $325 per year and equaling the extra investment in three years.
Despite the clear economic and environmental benefits to residents, the Utah Home Builders’ Association is trying to weaken the IECC standards that Utah should adopt. They cite the present high cost of Utah housing and argue against adding anything to raise the price. However, that view is penny-wise and pound-foolish, because, with IECC building standards, as noted above, the home-owner’s energy cost savings on utility bills pays for both a larger down payment and an annual incremental mortgage cost by the third year!
Utah’s conservatism should be far-sighted rather than myopic.
Get More Electric Vehicles in Utah
At the request of the Legislature, the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute in 2020 published “The Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions on Climate and Air Quality.” Milestone 5 of that document was “Position Utah as the market-based EV (Electrical Vehicle) state.” The good news is that Utah State Tax Commission data indicate that the number of EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) is rapidly increasing in Utah. In 2020 there were only 8,041 EVs (0.3%) and only 4,481 PHEVs (0.17%) for a total of 12,522 (0.47%) of all motor vehicles registered in Utah. As of February 2022, the Commission listed 16,407 EVs (0.59 %) and 7,073 PHEVs (0.25%) for a total of 23,480 (0.8%). Thus, in the last two years the total number of such low-emission vehicles has nearly doubled from .47% to .8% of motor vehicles * registered in Utah. Despite their small total number and obvious value for reducing CO2 and pollution, the Legislature has increased registration fees for them because they contribute little in gas taxes for roads.The bad news is that purchasing low-emission vehicles in Utah continues to be difficult. A major Toyota dealer in Salt Lake City recently had no Toyota Prius (hybrid) vehicles or Prius plug-ins available. Its marketing director indicated that Toyota will allocate only two or three PHEV vehicles to Utah per year. Most of them go to twelve “green” states such as California, Colorado, and Vermont where Zero Emission Vehicle laws require gradually increasing the number of electrical vehicles over the next decade.
Conclusions: Good Start, More to Do
It is possible that conservative Utah may actually becoming more attuned to the need for environmental conservation. A few ecological issues like the drought attracted most legislators’ attention and bipartisan action this year. However much remains to be done, such as reducing fossil fuel use, improving our residential building code to international standards and speeding Utah’s conversion to electric vehicles.
We all want to ensure that the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit from us will be livable.
Note: * Click the last link “motor vehicles,” and select the desired year. A spreadsheet will be downloaded. Scroll down to the bottom of that sheet and select the tab labeled “OH Reg by Vtype and Fuel type.” That provides another spreadsheet with several columns, including one column (G) labeled “Electric” and another (M) labeled “PHEV.” Grand totals of each are listed at the bottom of each column.
Appendix A: Ratings for State Legislators from Utah County on Selected 2022 Environmental Bills
Appendix B: Ratings for State Legislators from Salt Lake County on Selected 2022 Environmental Bills
Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 4, February 25, 2022
Let Us not Forget The Importance of Public Health and School Immunization Programs
The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed 5.7 million lives worldwide and has become the deadliest disease event in American history. Sadly, the United States has been less successful in managing the pandemic than the world’s other economically developed countries. The U.S has higher case rates, more deaths and lower vaccination rates. Since Dec. 1, 2021, the share of Americans who have died from the coronavirus is 63 percent higher than other large, wealthy nations. A cross-country study in The Lancet attempted to determine the reasons why there were differences in Covid cases, deaths and vaccination levels in 177 different nations including the U.S. One useful finding among many was that higher levels of “trust in government and between individuals” resulted in lower infection rates and higher vaccine coverage.
It was expected that Utah would perform well during the pandemic because it has the youngest median age (31.4) in the United States and is the 5th healthiest state in the nation according to recent rankings. These factors directly contributed to Utah having the 4th lowest death rate in the nation as of February 8th (134.7). However, as of this same date, Utah had a Covid case rate of 29,006 per 100,000 population, the 4th highest, and a full vaccination rate of 64%, the 21st lowest.
The Importance of Public Health
In spite of the remarkable historical achievements, the pandemic has had the unanticipated effect of discrediting public health in the U.S. In many states, including Utah, the traditional role of public health has been challenged and laws have been enacted to “rein in public health officials.” And personal attacks on our public health workers has been worrisome. It is important not to forget that public health has had a significant impact on the well-being of every single American. Public health has been credited with adding 25 years to the life expectancy of people living in the U.S. in the 20th century. This remarkable achievement occurred because of vaccine programs that eliminated or controlled infectious diseases; improvements in maternal and child health; reductions in the use of tobacco; improved food safety; and, improved management of drinking and waste water.
Vaccination against Childhood Infectious Diseases
The development of safe and effective vaccinations against serious and deadly diseases has been “one of the foremost scientific advances of the 21st century.” We are concerned, however, that vaccine hesitancy in the U.S and in Utah during the pandemic will cause us to forget the significant impact that vaccinations have had on our well-being today. In the 19th century, viruses were ever-present but poorly understood and exacted an enormous toll on the population as hundreds of thousands were infected and tens of thousands died. About one-fifth of children died before reaching age 5, many from infectious diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, polio, mumps and rubella that are now preventable with vaccines. However, of these, only smallpox has been officially eradicated. The others are still with us. In the past, school vaccinations have been an extremely important agent for achieving our highly vaccinated population. And, schools must continue to play a significant role in the future if we are to maintain and improve on our past accomplishments. Unfortunately, clouds are on the horizon. Trends in vaccination levels appear to be declining in Utah, and legislators in some states are questioning school vaccination requirements.
Utah’s Childhood Immunization Rates
In the school year 2009-10 Utah’s immunization rate for kindergarten children was 97.7%, the 6th highest in the U.S. In previous years Utah had also ranked high. By the school year 2018-19, however the rate had steadily declined to 92.8%, and our rank had dropped to 23rd. In the most recent reporting year, the Utah rate increased to 96%, but the comparative rank was the same at 23rd. The one-year increase is encouraging; however, concern continues that the previous nine-year trend could be indicative of the future.
Prevention of disease is far preferrable to getting sick. It is therefore critically important that Utah develop a sound strategy to strengthen public health and establish a relationship of trust between government, public health professionals, and our citizens. We must also create a plan to eliminate confusion about vaccines and their essential importance to the health of our citizens. This includes strengthening support for the immunization of children against infectious diseases.
Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 3, February 23, 2022
The Best Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Carbon Pricing: “A Fee and Dividend” Approach
Our fossil fuel emissions pose two, now very familiar, hazards to the quality of life in the State of Utah: the adverse health effects of a lifetime of breathing air that is frequently out of compliance with federal air pollution standards, and the disproportionate impact that climate change is having on the rapidly warming and drying southwest region of our country. Two bills that are under consideration during the 2022 legislative session are aimed at tackling these problems head-on by increasing the cost that each of us pays to fuel our vehicles, heat our homes and businesses, and jet-around the planet. The approach of taxing fossil fuels is a market driven approach to incentivize switching to clean sources of energy and has long been championed by economists as the single most effective way to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. The good news is that both bills, if adopted, support returning the carbon tax receipts to our pockets through dividends or reductions in other taxes and expenses.
Approaches to Federal Action
House Bill HJR 3, Joint Resolution Supporting Federal Carbon Fee and Dividend Program, sponsored by Representative Raymond Ward, supports the use of nation-wide, border-adjusted carbon fees and dividends as the best way to encourage the development of clean energy technologies. Currently, there are two such fee and dividend plans being discussed at the national level: the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, which is advocated by the Climate Leadership Council, and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act advocated by the Citizens Climate Lobby. Specifically, the highlighted summary introducing Representative Ward’s HJR 3 “supports the principle of coupling a border adjusted carbon fee and dividend program with a decrease of individual regulations on and government support for individual industry segments or specific companies; opposes any requirement of reparations from the fossil fuel industry; and supports a loosening of federal requirements placed on the mining industry to facilitate acquisition of the minerals needed for clean energy technologies.”
A Utah Bill
Senate Bill 187, Fossil Fuels Tax Amendments, sponsored by Senator Derek Kitchen, would impose a modest tax on fossil fuel emissions in Utah: motor fuels (gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel), natural gas, fossil-fuel generated electricity, and certain other fossil fuels burned in industrial facilities. The bill would return much of the added cost of these fuels by eliminating our regressive state sales taxes on grocery store food and residential and commercial electricity and other fuels; making public transit free; and funding a 10% refundable match of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families. Senator Kitchen’s bill is in many respects similar to Representative Joel Briscoe’s 2019 carbon pricing bill H.B. 304 and a proposed 2024 ballot initiative to create a carbon fee and dividend program. Kitchen’s bill would shift the state of Utah from taxing potatoes to taxing pollution. (Note that the proposed ballot initiative would become moot if the Legislature passes SB 187.)
Can Utah Get Ahead of the Game?
Utah’s double burden of toxic air pollution and a warming, drying climate may give Utah unusual potential for leadership on a broader scale. Although we are a relatively conservative state, our citizens are motivated to take action to clean our air and cool the planet. Both HJR 3 and Senate Bill 187 represent opportunities for the state of Utah to provide leadership at the national level. Although Kitchen’s SB 187 may not pass, the Utah Citizens’ Counsel urges you to help build momentum with your legislators and the public at large for the time, someday soon, when carbon taxing will be recognized as a necessary tool to deal with carbon emissions. We urge you to voice your support for these bills now by contacting your legislators.
Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 2, February 21, 2022
Full-Day Kindergarten Now!
Utah is Way Behind the Rest of the Country
Utah child advocates have long noted a striking educational disparity between Utah and surrounding states: 91% of Nevada children have the option of attending full-day kindergarten (FDK); 90% of Wyoming students enjoy that option, as do 95% of Colorado students. Nationally, 82% of kindergarten students are offered the full-day option. Utah’s number? Thirty percent! This legislative session, a broad coalition of groups, including the State Board of Education, most major school districts, The UEA, the PTA, Voices for Utah Children, United Way and many others, have launched a broad effort to redress this huge disparity. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel has added its voice to this group. We are supporting Representative Waldrip’s HB 193, which outlines a three-year roll-out that would give all Utah kindergarten students the option of attending a full-day program.
Parents are Ready for Full-Day Kindergarten
Some have assumed that Utah’s low FDK percentage springs from “cultural preferences.” Not true. Wherever the program has been offered by school districts, more than 85% of parents have signed their children up (p.2). The problem is that three in four Utah kindergarten students have no access to FDK because the state has failed to supply stable funding for the program.
The Benefits of FDK are Real
The benefits of a full-day program have been amply demonstrated:
• FDK students do much better in basic kindergarten proficiencies than half-day students. For example, in 2019, 40% of Utah full-day Kindergarten students moved up a full performance level, while only 16% of half-day students did so.
• The program benefits all students, but makes the biggest difference for at-risk students such as those with special academic needs, those living in multilingual households or those experiencing intergenerational poverty.
• The program is extremely cost effective. For every dollar spent on early intervention for young children we can save up to $12 in future public spending.
Utah has the money to support FDK. Now is the time to get it done.
The FDK program is affordable and has the support of the majority of Utah voters. Implementation would cost about $47 million during the three-year rollout phase—$23 million the first year and an additional $12 million each of the next two years. Then, FDK would be incorporated into the regular Weighted Pupil Unit funding program. There are ample state funds available for the program, and with state income tax revenue largely pledged to education by the Utah Constitution, continuing fiscal support is assured. In a recent survey, 68% of Utah parents expressed support for FDK (p.2). While higher taxes would not be required to implement the program, it is notable that fifty-seven to 69% (depending on the increased amount of taxes) of registered Utah voters indicated a willingness to pay more in taxes to expand FDK in Utah (p.2). HB 193 passed the House on February 17th. To help push this effort over the finish line, contact your state Senator urging a yes vote on HB 193.
Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 1, February 2022
Dear community leaders and friends,
This is the inaugural issue of Policy Briefs to be issued by the Utah Citizens’ Counsel. We are an independent, nonpartisan group of seniors with policy backgrounds who are dedicated to improving Utah public policy in seven major areas: environment, public education, health and health care, personal security, social support services, respect for all persons, regardless of status; and ethical, transparent, and participatory governance. Being the age of grandparents, we seek the kinds of communities we want for our grandchildren’s generation and beyond.
Our initial briefs will identify four of our priorities that the Utah Legislature is or will be considering. We hope you’ll want to read each one and identify issues of common concern to pursue through the political process, whether in collaboration or independently.
Today’s Policy Brief contains our assessment of the value of supporting requested appropriations for affordable housing—a critical need in Utah. In the immediate coming days, we will be sending three additional emails dealing with 1) full-day kindergarten, 2) carbon pricing legislation, and 3) the need to strengthen and preserve public health and childhood immunizations—all important issues for the Utah Legislature to address.
After the current legislative session is finished, we plan to issue periodic briefs on other issues affecting major policy decisions. Please watch for our future briefs, and feel free to share our assessments with groups to which you belong and with other interested friends and colleagues.
Sincerely, the UCC Steering Committee
Dixie S. Huefner, Susan Olson, Rebecca Davis, Dave Carrier
A Rare Opportunity for More Affordable Housing
Utah has a housing affordability crisis. According to the Gardner Policy Institute, the cost of buying a home in Utah has gone up 10 percent annually since 2011 and surged 29 percent between 2020 and 2021 (p. 3). During this latter period, 20 of Utah’s 29 counties saw increases of at least 20 percent (p. 3). At these prices, by 2020 72.8 percent of renters could not afford the median home price (p. 1). With more and more people priced out of buying homes, the pressure on rental housing has also increased. A recent study by the Utah Foundation reported that between January 2019 and July 2021, average rents went up 23 percent in Salt Lake County and as high as 66 percent in Utah County, with Weber and Davis Counties’ increase between those two (p. 7).
Low-Income Renters Hurt the Most
The people hurt the very most by this trend are the lowest-income Utahns. Using 2019 US Census data (before the latest steep cost increases), the National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that Utah had 66,855 households that earn only 30 percent or less of the area median income. Seventy-one percent of these households (47,467) spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing. The state is short 45,421 rental units that are affordable and available for these households. As renters have to pay more and more for housing, they cannot afford other necessities, and many are one crisis away from homelessness. A recent audit of the state’s homelessness system found both that the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Utah (especially unsheltered homelessness) has increased by 12 percent since 2016 (p. 5), and insufficient affordable housing is available for people who would be able to move from housing with intensive supportive services to more independent living (p. 18).
One-Time State and Federal Funds Requested
Because of a booming state economy, buttressed by federal Covid-relief funds, the state has a rare opportunity in 2022 to make the most significant reduction ever in this problem. One huge advantage of housing development is that it can be done with one-time funds, rather than ongoing funds, which are needed to support many other important types of public services. In the 2022 legislative session the Department of Workforces Services’ (DWS) Housing and Community Development Division is requesting $100 million in one-time funding from the state’s General Fund to increase affordable housing statewide through the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund. Dispersed competitively, loans require new properties to limit rent levels for at least 30 years, and repaid loans will fund more housing in the future. Some of the requested funds this year would be earmarked for affordable workforce housing in rural areas hard-hit by tourism-driven increases in housing cost and scarcity.
DWS and the Office of Homeless Services are also requesting $127,838,200 in one-time funds the state received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). These funds would be used to create between 2500 and 3200 deeply affordable housing units with supportive services for the most vulnerable, low-income Utahns. Individual legislators have made several other, smaller requests to fund housing for persons in early recovery from substance abuse, for families of those leaving incarceration, and for eight energy-efficient homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity.
Contact the Executive Appropriations Committee Now
The majority of funds in the large requests are for the current 2022 fiscal year, which would get projects moving quickly. The crucial Executive Appropriations Committee will be compiling its recommendations for the full legislature no later than Friday, February 25. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel urges everyone to support these requests by contacting members of the committee, whose names and contact information can be found through this link.
Utah Citizens’ Counsel Position Statement on Constitutional Amendment Proposal G, issued on September 7, 2020
The UCC opposed Constitutional Amendment G on the November 2020 ballot. Unfortunately, it passed, allowing expansion of income tax revenues, currently limited to public and higher education, to “supporting children and supporting people with a disability.”
The ballot language stated “Shall the Utah Constitution be amended to expand the uses of money the state receives from income taxes and intangible property taxes to include supporting children and supporting people with a disability.” Yea ___or Nay ___
UCC’s major reasons for opposing Amendment G include the following:
(1) Utah does not begin to fund education at the levels needed currently;
(2) HB 357– a somewhat improved distribution scheme for public education funds–which takes effect if the Amendment passes, is not a guarantee of future funding. It can be amended or repealed by any future legislature;
(3) If the Amendment passes, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office estimates the loss of education funding at $600 million initially, and the potential for far higher losses in the future is great;
(4) Once in place, amendment or repeal of this constitutional amendment will be prohibitively difficult, while statutory amendment or repeal of HB 357 is far easier;
(5) The legislative flexibility to be achieved by expanding the income tax earmark is hypocritical. The Legislature has failed to achieve flexibility in its use of its sales tax revenues for children and people with a disability because of sales tax earmarks, especially for road construction, of about $500 million and failure to eliminate tax exemptions and tax credits that are no longer justifiable;
(6) the ballot language is irresponsible because it does not inform voters that the impact of a yes vote to support children and to support people with a disability would seriously affect education revenues by greatly expanding the constitutional earmark currently dedicated solely for public and higher education. In other words, it is a one-sided explanation of the ballot proposition.
Nov. 2019 Letter to the Governor re tax reform
The Utah Citizens’ Counsel delivered a letter to Governor Herbert on November 21, 2019, with our evaluation and position with respect to the latest tax proposals from Utah’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force. To access the letter click here Letter To Governor Herbert
Between 2014 -2018, UCC Annual Reports contained our position statements and replaced separate position statements from 2012 and earlier.
The following are a number of positions taken earlier by the UCC.
2012 Medicaid Eligibility Expansion
2012 Statement on Redistricting for the Salt Lake City Council
2011 Redistricting Effort
2010 START Treaty
Ethical Government Reform Rationale
Section One: Legally Prohibited Violations of Ethics Standards
Section Two: Financial Reforms
Section Three: Independent Ethics Commission
Section Four: Reforms to Enhance Utah’s Democracy