The Senate Government Operations Committee passed out a bill that would give the Legislature control over the Tax Review Commission and the Constitutional Review Commission, which critics say will cost the state more than it will save.---
Two noticeable measures emerged from the committee. The first was Senate Joint Resolution 5 sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, designed to create a performance note for legislative bills that would ask appropriations for new program, agencies or substantial increases in growth and scope to existing programs and agencies.
Legislators would have the option of attaching the note to their bill, much like current bills require a fiscal note to estimate cost of implementation. The performance note would require bills to note the purpose of the appropriations, the goal of the appropriation or the impact of it into the future, and benchmarks needed to achieve that goal. “This will give us as a Legislature the critical information we need on what the [bill] sponsor thinks the outcomes of the appropriation will be—and be a springboard for a good debate,” Niederhauser told the committee.
Representatives of the Legislative General Auditor’s office spoke favorably of the bill, since it would help them in their work judging the efficacy of legislative program and agency creations and expansions. For Niederhauser it also provides a good litmus test as to whether the bill sponsor can predict and plan for the future success of a new program or agency. “Right from the get-go it will let us know if they can provide this information reliably and objectively,” Niederhauser said. With proper planning the outcome hopefully will be better functioning government. “Good governance in the 21st century will have to be based on results,” Niederhauser said.
The bill passed favorably out of the committee with a unanimous vote.
Another significant bill from the committee was Senate Bill 44 from Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, to allow the Legislature sole power over convening the Tax Review Commission and the Constitutional Review Commission. Currently these commissions meet year round and are staffed with professional members with expertise in taxes and the law who serve on a volunteer basis. Dayton defended the bill as cost-cutting measure that would still keep the commissions available but not eliminate them.
“This is not meant to severely limit or do away with the commissions but only to allow the Legislature to set the time of convening them,” Dayton told the commission. Currently these commissions work to review complicated tax issues or the merit of constitutional revisions when requested by various parties that include the Governor, local governments, the public as well as the Legislature. Dayton’s proposal would change that so they could only be convened by a legislator passing a resolution that would require a simple majority vote in both houses of the Legislature.
“Do you believe we’ll change their purpose as far as checks and balances go?” Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City asked Dayton. Dayton said that the public could still petition the commissions by reaching out to their elected representatives. While Dayton fashioned the bill as a cost-saving measure she admitted that she had not attached a fiscal note to the bill, because legislative fiscal analysts told her that the bill would actually be revenue neutral.
“I was hoping it would be more positive,” Dayton said of the analyst’s determination. “But money will be saved.” Constitutional Commission Chair Judge John Memmott pointed out that the possibility of the state facing lawsuits for not properly vetting bills could cost the state a lot more.
He also pointed out that there is a definite separation of powers issue at stake by giving sole control over these expert-staffed commission to the Legislature. “The thing we have to remember is that the Constitution is a document of the Legislature or the Governor but is a document of the people,” Memmott told the committee.
The bill was still passed out with a 5 to 2 favorable recommendation.