SALT LAKE CITY - Education and air quality were top concerns for Davis County legislators as they began Utah’s 45-day legislative session on Monday.
“I hope we make progress on air quality,” said Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful. “I hope we do better yet on education. We’ve made improvements every year on funding and hope to do even better this year.”
Funding is a concern of Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, in his role as vice chair of executive appropriations.
“We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do,” he said. “I’m glad to get to work.”
While the 2013 session started with $475 million in new revenue, said Wilson, this year there is only $238 million of new revenue to work with.
“That’s half the new money we had before, but we don’t have half the requests” for it, he said.
Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said she is looking forward to digging into the numbers and getting to work.
Surveys from her constituents show an overwhelming concern for air quality, with education being the second top priority.
Edwards is sponsoring two air quality bills, and Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is proposing another.
“I’m hopeful that we really are going to address clean air,” said Handy. His bill focuses on “dirty diesel” emissions of school buses.
“It’s a really good bill,” said Handy, “I hope it gets a lot of public support.”
In her opening address, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said this legislative session has “great promise and unlimited possibility.”
Legislators should not settle for the status quo, she said.
“We can’t be coasting and thinking we’re moving forward,” she said. “There’s only one way to coast and that’s downhill.”
Lockhart called for an “education renaissance” in Utah, and asked legislators to support new technologies and invest in the “most important boy or girl in the classroom: the teacher.”
Creative people in the state should be supported as they work to come up with creative solutions for Utah’s air quality problems, she said. Government should not impose driving restrictions on individuals, but look for “voluntary measures with a concrete impact.”
“The reality of living in valleys means we must consider our air quality and do something about it,” she said.
Lockhart strongly opposed a gas tax, and spoke critically of the Affordable Care Act, calling it “not just a trick, but a trap.”
She criticized Governor Gary Herbert for being slow to act, and defended the money spent to investigate Utah’s former attorney general, John Swallow.
“It did not come cheap,” she said of the investigation. “Honest government doesn’t come at a discount. Public integrity has no price.”
There are a lot of issues on the plates of legislators this year, said Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.
“My hope is we prioritize the right things and complete the things the public wants,” he said.