SALT LAKE CITY -- Opening the 2013 general session of the Utah Legislature, House Speaker Becky Lockhart condemned Congress for its inaction to solve the nation's fiscal problems.
Speaking Monday morning from the House chambers, the Provo Republican said the 535 members of the nation's governing body have made gridlock a profession and now are forcing Utah to face an uncertain future.
"After years of meddling with the economy and massive trillions in debt, their inactions are having a direct and immediate impact on Utah," Lockhart said. "The action, or inaction, of the federal government profoundly influences our success."
Lockhart stated that Congress's actions have taken at least $100 million -- possibly more -- from Utah's coffers as members of Congress have made deals that spent taxpayer dollars, creating programs that have major effects on the state.
Lockhart stated that the $100 million could mean a modest tax cut for the state, 1,600 new teachers for a year or providing necessary services for the disabled who have been patiently waiting for years for their needs to be covered.
That loss of money is bringing uncertainty to the Legislature as it begins its new session. The Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert's office announced a consensus revenue projection in late 2012 that showed the state would enjoy more than $300 million in new revenue for the upcoming fiscal year. That projection was based on the current tax law. After that, Congress adopted new tax codes in early January that changed the revenue projections for the state, resulting in the $100 million loss.
Lawmakers are also left in the dark on how to create their budgets as they are expecting the federal government to make more major cuts when they deal with the sequestration debates coming up in March and the debt ceiling increases that could come in May. It is expected that Congress could demand major cuts come to the federal budget through those negotiations, which the legislature expects to mean fewer federal dollars funneled to the states.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who was elected as the new Senate president, agreed with Lockhart's statements that Congress has let Utah down. He stated that in the past Utah has asked for a block grant of money to handle Medicaid within the state but has been denied. He argues the state could handle the program better and with less money if it were allowed to do so.
In addition to going after Congress, the House speaker also noted that the Utah Legislature can do better to serve the citizens of the state. Lockhart pleaded with lawmakers to exercise restraint when considering their legislation before creating it. She stated there already have been 1,000 bill files opened and that legislators should be cautious in creating more laws.
"At the end of this 45 days, I hope you can look back and say that you did your very best," she said. "Be courageous, make the difficult decisions now and your constituents will thank you in the future."
Monday also marked the first day as a legislator for seven Utah County lawmakers in the House of Representatives and one new senator in the Utah Senate. Lawmakers were joined by their families and close friends as they were sworn in simultaneously on the floor of each body of the legislature.
"It was really exciting and I felt a great deal of honor," said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, after she was sworn in. "I feel a great responsibility to uphold the Constitution."