Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As the leaves begin to change color, I hope you are enjoying the start of the fall season. Recently, I joined my fellow legislators back at the Capitol, where we met for this month’s Interim meetings. It was very informative, and I am grateful for the efforts of all those involved.
Below you will find summaries of topics we heard in those meetings and other important items.
Utah State Flag Task Force: Semi-Finalist Flags Identified
In their efforts to select a new state flag of Utah, the Utah Flag Task Force members have narrowed down 20 semi-finalist flag designs for the review and evaluation of the public. As lamented by task force members, “A new flag offers a chance for Utahns to have a conversation about what’s distinctive about this place. A new flag can draw upon our history and be a symbol in a bigger initiative to think about what unites us. A new flag could be one step in helping all of us, together, face our pressing issues.”
As the Senate, we too believe that designing a new state flag offers Utahns the chance to talk about who we are. It’s a chance to talk about bigger questions that get to the heart of our identity now — while still honoring and building upon our history.
When the “more than a flag” redesign project first began, members of the project team from the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement evaluated state flags from across the nation to better identify how a state’s culture, identity and history is exemplified in its flag. Utah is one of several states whose flag has a plain blue background with a seal or emblem: not very distinguishable one from another.
In contrast, states like Texas, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico have especially identifiable and distinguishable flags, with significance woven into the colors, styles and symbols of the banner.
The design review committee is seeking feedback on the 20 semi-finalist flags now through October 25. See the survey here.
Little Cottonwood Canyon EIS Comment Period
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is currently reviewing several alternatives to the current winter driving conditions in Little Cottonwood Canyon, with the goal of improving roadway safety, reliability and mobility from the base of the canyon, through the town of Alta. After an initial comment period, UDOT identified 5 possible alternatives as part of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with “Gondola B” as their preferred alternative.
“Gondola B” would begin at a base station with 2,500 parking spaces near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each gondola cabin could hold up to 35 people, with a cabin arriving every 2 minutes. This option would significantly reduce the amount of cars in the area, and avoid delays due to adverse weather, crashes, slide offs, or slow moving traffic.
A 45-day public review and comment period for the final EIS will be open through October 17, 2022. During the comment period, you can reach out to UDOT regarding the preferred alternative, the EIS, environmental impacts of the alternatives, the proposed phasing plan, and the mitigation of potential impacts. You can submit your comments via email, written letter, voicemail, text message, or directly at the project website.
Increase in the Amount of Paid Child Support in Utah:
The Legislature has recently examined ways to increase the amount of child support paid each year. During the 2020 General Session, the Legislature passed H.B. 197 Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support. After the bill went into effect in 2021, individuals who were past due by more than $2,500 in child support for a year could not get a hunting or fishing license.
Over the past year since the law has been in effect, almost 3,000 individuals were prevented from obtaining a license. Consequently, child support payments have increased by $1.9 million in the year since the law went into effect. Almost 500 individuals are now compliant with their child support obligations, according to the Utah Office of Recovery Services. While there is still room for improvement, I am pleased to see such drastic improvements in the child support sector as a result of H.B. 197. If you would like more details on the bill, you can read more here.
The MARS Building – The One-Stop Shop for Space Ingenuity
The Miller Advanced Research and Solutions Center (MARS) is a tremendous new resource for Hill Air Force Base, Northern Utah, and the citizens of Davis County. This one-stop location brings academic, government and industry partners together, making it possible for greater collaboration and innovation. Within the walls of the MARS Center, the next generation of technological advancements needed to ensure national security will be researched and developed. With this center, Weber State faculty and students will be able to apply their knowledge and skills to find solutions for the aerospace industry. This will be a tremendous collaborative space for the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI). In fact, during next year’s legislative session we are looking to greatly enhance our advanced research capabilities that will take place, in a partnership between Weber State, Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative, and the private sector. Forbes magazine has ranked Utah as one of the top 3 states for business for 10 years running, and this facility will continue that trend well into the future by enabling start-up and small business success. The facility will keep Northern Utah and Davis County at the forefront of the aerospace and defense industries. Thanks to HAFB, Weber State University and the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation for their vision and commitment to making this happen. Learn more here.
Unique to Utah - This Month 95 Years Ago
In September, 1927, Utah native Philo T. Farnsworth made history by inventing the first fully electronic television system. Philo Farnsworth was born in Beaver, Utah and, in his early years, he was fascinated by the growing use of electricity. Farnsworth was curious by nature, leading him to experiment with any electronic devices he could access. Even in high school, Farnsworth was contemplating the invention of an electronic television, showing his high school science teacher television diagrams he had created. By the age of 21, Farnsworth made history when he transmitted the first television image on his all-electric system.
Philo T. Farnsworth was blessed with extreme intelligence and curiosity. Using his abilities, he contributed to the world of science and technology and laid the groundwork for many modern technological advances. In honor of his work, the Utah Capitol has a statue in his honor. I would encourage you to visit the Philo T. Farnsworth statue and learn more about this significant figure in Utah history during your next visit to the Utah Capitol. Learn more.
Utah’s Water Conservation and Supply Updates
During our September interim meetings, the Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment interim committee received an update on water supply and conservation in Utah. The Department of Natural Resources outlined how the efforts of every Utah citizen are paying off in big ways. Salt Lake City alone has saved 2.9 billion gallons of water more than the previous three-year average conservation. Additionally, this year's monsoon season has resulted in a higher level of soil moisture than previous years. A good winter combined with higher soil moisture levels will put the state in a good position for full water reservoirs next spring. With new water conservation ordinances, Utah is projected to save nearly 11 billion gallons of water over the next 10 years. While we still have work to do, I am optimistic about the positive impact that our water conservation efforts have made. Hear the report.
Utah Economic Update
In a September interim meeting, the Executive Appropriations Committee received an economic update on the trajectory of Utah’s economy since the last update in May 2022. In the four months since then, the office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst recognized the strength in our underlying economic foundation, while remaining cautiously aware of weakness indicators and potential risk factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2022 has seen two quarters of GDP contraction. Following the catch-up of supply chain shortages, Q4 of 2021 had an influx of inventory which subsequently effected the possibility of positive growth in Q1 and Q2 of 2022. The office of the LFA identifies this as a natural trend and looks to CPI, consumer confidence, consumer and market inflation expectations, gas prices, and home prices when evaluating the likelihood of a recession. Positive trends in the global supply chain index, nonresidential fixed investment and labor force participation signal strength despite levels experienced during the pandemic. Risk factors for Utah are linked to the global economy’s potential for a recession, specifically when seeing decreased demand for U.S. products and reduced cost of European imports. Listen to the report.
Utah Revenue Update
In a Utah revenue update to the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee, the office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst evaluated Utah’s revenues for FY2022. The general fund, income tax fund, and withholding trajectories from the last 4 years were analyzed, with results showcasing wage growth due to the strength of Utah’s economy across COVID. In addition to receiving projections for the remainder of 2022, year-end forecasts for FY2023 were also presented.
Also during interim meetings, LFA presented their renewed Funding Item Follow-up Report. This resource reports the spending, implementation, and effectiveness status of budget items funded in fiscal year 2022.
On September 20, the Executive Appropriations Committee was presented with this year’s wildfire statistics. Although we are still in a drought, we have been lucky to experience wildfires at a much lower rate than in past years, saving lives, land and funding. While the decrease was in part because of better precipitation and decreased lighting strikes around the state, the efforts of responsible citizens cannot be understated.
As is the case this year, human-caused wildfires often account for the most acreage burned. The “top-3” human-caused starts include equipment, debris burning and campfires. The state has made a significant effort to educate Utahns about the role they can play in preventing fires, with the resource Fire Sense, and we are seeing the benefits as human-caused starts are down 34% compared to the 10-year average. It is encouraging to see this improvement and I am grateful for your efforts. I encourage you all to continue to be vigilant as we try to protect our state from the dangers of wildfires.
Until next time,
Senator Dan McCay
Utah Senate District 11