Equalization of School Capital Funding

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

Senator Mike DmitrichIn the past general election, east side Salt Lake County voters approved the split of Jordan School District, the largest school district in the state. The district split created capital outlay inequities among school districts, some experiencing increasing enrollment and others decreasing enrollment, resulting in greater or lesser needs for school buildings. Last year, I served on the Equalization Task Force, the objective of which was to design a fair method of equalizing the statewide financial burden of constructing school buildings. Senate Bill 48 emerged from the Task Force, and we support this proposal as a viable plan.

The bill, now SB 48, Second Substitute, “Equalization of School Capital Outlay Funding” (Sen. Dan Eastman), increases by $28.5 million the ongoing funding to the Capital Outlay Foundation Program, which provides state funding to school districts that receive less property tax revenues per pupil due to their smaller property tax base per pupil. The bill also increases the combined capital-related property tax rates a school district must impose to receive full funding from .0024 to .0030 and allows for proportional funding if a district imposes a rate below .0030.

End of an Era – The Passing of Senator Ed Mayne

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader


Earlier this year
, we reported that Senator Ed Mayne, Assistant Senate Minority Whip, had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Senator Mayne passed away yesterday morning (Sunday, November 25, 2007) at the age of 62, while serving in his fourth Senate term. We express our sincere condolences to his wife Karen, his children and grandchildren, his parents, and all members of his family.

Senator Ed MayneHis passing marks the end of the Ed Mayne Era in the Utah Legislature. He fought the good fight for Utah communities his entire life, and in the past several months, he has concurrently fought his own personal battle against a formidable opponent–cancer. We are so sorry the disease has prevailed.

It has been a privilege and honor to serve with Senator Ed Mayne, advocate of working families in both his profession and his public service. He led and inspired all who knew him. Ed was passionate and compassionate, a loyal friend, and a fierce contender, right to the very end. The void created by his passing will never be filled.

“Ed was a champion,” Senator Gene Davis, Senate Minority Whip, remarked. “When Ed spoke, he spoke for and to the working men and women of Utah. He stood up for families be it a working wage, health care, education, or seniors. Senator Mayne championed the common person.”

2002 Olympic Torch Carrier Sen. Ed MayneSenator Ed Mayne’s legacy dictates that we, the Utah Senate Democrats, attempt to continue to carry Ed’s Olympic Torch on behalf of the men, women, and children who reside in the great state of Utah.

Thank you, Paul Rolly, for your endearing tribute to Senator Mayne. Click here to read the article. Click here and then click on the link “View a collection of photos here” to view an outstanding slide show/photo album of Senator Mayne assembled by his son Paul.

The Message of Referendum 1

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

Sen. Dmitrich at News ConferenceFor the past few days since last Tuesday’s election, I have reflected on the results of Referendum 1 and the voluminous follow-up commentary.
Even though 62 percent of voters in Utah rejected school vouchers, 38 percent of Utah voters were in favor of school vouchers, believing they offered a win-win option for parental choice and public school funding. The message of the voucher vote is clear. The high voter turnout, coupled with both the YES votes and the NO votes, indicates that Utah’s citizens are cognizant of the challenges facing public education and want something done about it.

Although I do not support using public funds to subsidize private schools, I do support using public funds to meet every child’s needs through our public education system, which is the option chosen by the overwhelming majority of Utah’s students. I believe the Utah Legislature should listen to the public and, together with teachers, parents, students, and taxpayers, fortify our public education system so it will appropriately meet the needs of all students. In my opinion, the preferred outcome of the voucher election is a superior public school system, and I hope the players in education will take advantage of this opportunity to secure the lifeline of our public schools.

At the end of the day, parents still have the choice of two education systems in Utah, public and private, and both are excellent options.

Congratulations, Mayor-elect Becker

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? MAYOR BECKER

Congratulations to House Minority Leader Ralph Becker on snagging a new office in the City & County Building down the street from the Capitol. Ralph brings to the office many years of experience in public service. Although he will be missed on Capitol Hill, we look forward to working with him on issues pertaining to Utah’s highly regarded capital city. Way to go, Ralph.

Voucher Costs Will Exceed Savings

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

Senator Mike DmitrichOn November 6, 2007, voters in Utah will vote for or against the implementation of HB 148, Education Vouchers, passed by the Legislature in February 2007. HB 148 establishes a voucher program to funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools. The amount of a voucher ranges from $500 to $3,000, depending on family income and size. Families at EVERY income level are eligible.

CHOICE is the nucleus of the voucher program. Parents can choose to send their child to a private school and use the voucher to offset the cost. In actuality, if the voucher law is implemented, parents WILL NOT be making the choice. Private schools will be making the choice. Private schools will exercise their prerogative to accept or reject students according to their subjective criteria.

Fewer than half of Utah‘s counties have private schools in their communities. Rural legislators who voted for the voucher program have done a disservice to their constituency. Private school is not an option in their districts, and therefore, the voucher program is not applicable to rural Utah.

Prior to voting November 6, please read the Impartial Analysis of Referendum 1 in the Voter Information Pamphlet. If you are a newspaper subscriber, you should have received a copy with your newspaper within the past two weeks. You should have also received one in the mail. If you do not have a copy of the pamphlet, they are available at public libraries and in all county offices. The entire pamphlet can be viewed online at http://www.utah.gov/ltgovernor (click on the red arrow at the upper left). You can also call Lieutenant Governor Herbert’s office at 801-538-1041, and one will be mailed to you.

During the first five years, the taxpayer will pay the cost of the voucher to the private school from the General Fund AND a portion of the per-student state funding to the school district from the Uniform School Fund for each student who accepts a voucher. The Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimates the total cumulative General Fund cost to be $429 million just for the vouchers for years 1 through 13 (when the voucher program is fully implemented). A tax dollar is a tax dollar, and it is naive to presume that citizens will feel no impact by funding vouchers from the General Fund. Voucher proponents erroneously assert that the implementation of vouchers will bring savings to our public schools. Read the Impartial Analysis carefully and you will see that costs will exceed savings.

Voucher proponents assert that the implementation of vouchers will reduce class size. There is no guarantee this will happen. Even though some students may leave the public school system, fixed costs remain unchanged. There are still buildings to construct and maintain, teachers and staff to pay, utilities to pay, supplies to purchase, etc. If enrollment decreases by a class size, a teacher may be terminated and the students redistributed among a fewer number of teachers, which may result in even larger class sizes.

A typical request for an appropriation of state funds entails a grueling process of accountability before, during, and after the monies are appropriated. I am wondering why taxpayers would vote to forego accountability for their tax dollars by giving a blank check to private schools where there will be essentially no oversight of monies spent.

The public school system is exactly that-education for the public-an opportunity for EVERY school-age child to have a quality education. Utah is a public school state; 96 percent of Utah‘s children attend public school. The core issue is whether or not it is in the best interest of our public education system to subsidize private schools. In a state with the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the nation, it makes sense to spend our limited resources for the benefit of the 96 percent. I urge you to vote against Referendum 1 on November 6.

Way to go, Ralph!

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

Congratulations to House Minority Leader Ralph Becker on Tuesday’s victory in the Salt Lake City mayoral primary. Representative Becker and Dave Buhler are the final two in the race to be decided on election day, November 6. The upside is that if Ralph is elected mayor, Salt Lake City will benefit from his knowledge and expertise. The downside is that if Ralph is elected mayor, Capitol Hill will lose an outstanding legislator.

On behalf of the Senate Democrats, I congratulate Ralph and his fine election team. As I mentioned to Ralph yesterday in my congratulatory phone call, I wish him luck in representing the second best city in Utah!

TOP SECRET

Last month, Senator Mike Dmitrich attended the Utah Mining Association’s 92nd Annual Convention in Park City. At the request of the Association, he presented two awards to legislators, one to Senator Howard Stephenson and one to Representative Wayne Harper.

Done-Finished-NOT!

Unbeknownst to Senator Dmitrich, a surprise was in the works! He was not allowed to exit the stage. He learned he was not only a presenter of awards but a recipient, as well. The Utah Mining Association awarded him a Prazen bronze statue (by renowned sculptor Gary Prazen) entitled “Coal in My Veins” for lifetime legislative achievement. He extends his sincere appreciation to the Utah Mining Association for acknowledging his contribution to Utah’s mining industry and government.

Congratulations, Senator Dmitrich!

UMA Award (Coal in My Veins)

“Coal in My Veins” by Gary Prazen

“Coal in My Veins”

P.S. Click here for info about Gary Prazen, the sculptor.

Statement on the Crandall Canyon Mine Incident

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader

Senator Mike DmitrichThe month of August in Utah’s coal country has been disconcerting. On August 6, 2007, a collapse occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington, Utah. Six miners are trapped. During the underground rescue attempt, another collapse occurred on August 16 killing three rescue workers and injuring six others. (Underground rescue efforts have now been suspended.) Six boreholes have been drilled near the area where the miners were working August 6, but no signs of life have been detected. A seventh hole is now being drilled, and a robotic camera will be lowered into an earlier hole to search for signs of life.

The past three weeks have been grueling for the residents of Carbon and Emery counties. I have personally met with many of the residents, Governor Huntsman, Robert Murray, co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, and many other key personnel. Sincere efforts have been made to rescue the trapped miners, but to no avail.

At this time of angst, I would like to express my concern for the trapped miners and their families. They have experienced emotions that none of us can fathom, and I certainly hope for a positive outcome. Also at this time of tragedy, I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the three rescuers who perished and my appreciation to the six rescuers and their families who were injured in their courageous attempt to locate the trapped miners. I hope those who were injured will soon return to good health.

The severity of this tragedy has prompted four congressional investigations, and a fifth may materialize. Governor Huntsman has appointed a Utah Mine Safety Commission chaired by Scott Matheson, former dean of the University of Utah Law School and United States Attorney. The governor has asked me to serve on the Commission, along with former U.S. Senator Jake Garn, Huntington’s Mayor Hilary Gordon, Price’s Mayor Joe Piccolo, Representative Kay McIff, Dennis O’Dell, Safety and Health Director of the United Mine Workers of America, and David Litvin of the Utah Mining Association. Governor Huntsman states, “A significant part of this review will be an assessment of the role of state and local government relative to the federal government and private industry in ensuring mine safety. My objective is to promote mine safety, without partisanship and without oppressive regulation of free enterprise.

Coal mining provides a livelihood for many miners and their families in my Senate district. It should be noted that other coal mines in eastern Utah continue to operate safely. The safety record of Utah’s coal mines has been good until the Crandall incident. I hope this incident demands increased emphasis on safety for our miners. Coal production is a vital component of Utah’s economy. The Utah coal mining industry employs nearly 2,000 people. In 2006, 25.5 million short tons of coal were mined at a value of over $570 million. Coal provides more than 50 percent of our nation’s electrical generation, validating the immediate requirement for high levels of safety for miners.

In the past century, great strides have been made in mine safety. Unfortunately, our progress can be diminished when accidents occur resulting in death and/or injury. J. Brett Harvey, president and CEO of CONSOL Energy Inc., delivered the keynote address at last week’s Utah Mining Association convention, and referring to his operation, he stated succinctly, “…safety trumps everything else we do. It trumps production, it trumps profits, it trumps all other rules, policies, and procedures. (CONSOL operates 20 mining sites, including the small underground Emery Mine in Utah.)

I look forward to working with the governor on the Utah Mine Safety Commission and also offer my services to other investigative entities to accomplish our safety ambitions.

The China Report

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
Senate District 27

Senator Mike DmitrichAs you are probably aware, I just returned from a legislative trip to the Liaoning Province, Utah’s sister state, located in northeastern China. Below is a brief synopsis of many hours spent with government officials in China.

I would like to compliment Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble on his exemplary conduct in leading our legislative delegation. Without exception, Senator Bramble made a conscientious effort to include all members of the delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, in all presentations made to the Chinese officials. We owe him a big thank you for his efforts.

China is a rapidly developing nation with great resources and needs. Utah, particularly rural Utah, can benefit from the relationship we are building with China’s Liaoning Province. Utah’s expertise in technologies for safely and cleanly using our natural resources, as well as our educational and cultural resources, can greatly benefit Liaoning Province while helping Utah to succeed in today’s world economy.

Liaoning is rich in natural resources, just like rural Utah. Unlike rural Utah, though, the Chinese have struggled to make advances in mining, exploration, and extraction technologies. Also, they have not made great strides in mine safety as we have. During my visit, I was able to discuss these concerns with leaders in the Liaoning Province, and I am confident Utah can export its expertise and mine safety equipment to China to help decrease the number of mining deaths in their province. The provincial officials also discussed other mutually beneficial partnerships, like coal gasification, utilization of coal-bed methane, and uranium mining.

We also met with educational leaders and discussed possible cooperation with educational exchanges. At Liaoning University, we saw a modern university with a strong desire for educational partnerships in America. The Chinese are building universities at a startling pace, trying to move their economy from low-skilled manufacturing jobs to higher skilled ones. As other countries like Vietnam become more competitive in low-skilled manufacturing, this is increasingly important for China. Many of their students study in the United States, which gives us the opportunity to influence China’s future leaders and encourage political reforms we hope will accompany China’s economic growth.

Other visits were to high-tech parks and manufacturing facilities. These are modern facilities with a young and diligent workforce. These industries are growing quickly and attracting more and more workers. There are many opportunities for foreign investment and for understanding the characteristics that make China such an attractive place to do business.

In our meetings with government leaders at the city, provincial, and even national level, we learned that China needs the resources of states like Utah to continue its economic reforms. These visits help foster the cooperative environment that can lead to genuine reform in China, both economically and politically. Utah has talent and ingenuity ready to be shipped around the world in the form of people and products. These people and products can benefit China and Utah simultaneously. This is what we discovered in our meetings in China as we built relationships to cooperatively move forward in our shrinking world.

What’s Best for Public Ed?

By Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
Senate District 27

Senator Mike DmitrichDue to the recent Utah Supreme Court ruling regarding HB148–Education Vouchers (subject of the referendum vote in November), the public will have a straight up or down vote on a universal voucher program for the state of Utah. The Court ruled that a second bill, HB174, Education Voucher Amendments, is inadequate for enacting a voucher program on its own.

Announcing 131,000 SignaturesOn behalf of the Utah Senate Democrats, I applaud the efforts of many groups and individuals for their professional conduct in exercising their constitutional right to bring this issue before the people. We express our thanks to the UEA, PTA, Utahns for Public Schools, the Utah State Board of Education (chaired by Kim Burningham), the Utah State Office of Education attorneys, the 131,000 signers of the petition, and all others who worked tirelessly to arrive at this juncture.

Chair Burningham at Press ConferenceWe also thank all of Utah’s public education employees and volunteers who daily contribute to the success of Utah’s public education system.

As posted previously on our blog, the Senate and House Democrats oppose vouchers. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and I wrote two letters to Governor Huntsman asking him to call a special session to resolve the confusion created by this phenomenon of circumstances. The Supreme Court ruling has now eliminated the need for a special session, and obviously, we hope the voters overturn the voucher law passed by the Legislature.

Vouchers are not a “bureaucrat and liberal union” issue as has been cited by voucher proponents. Instead, the core issue is whether or not it is in the best interest of our public education system to subsidize private schools. In my opinion, the voucher law is blatantly unfair to Utah’s students, particularly those who reside in rural areas of the state.

The ballot language has been approved, along with arguments for and against vouchers, for publication in the Voter Information Pamphlet. I am very pleased with the argument against vouchers and believe it addresses all relevant concerns for the voters’ consideration. (Click “Read the rest of the entry” below for the complete argument against vouchers.)

Between now and November when the vote takes place, I urge the citizens of Utah to carefully consider the voucher issue and base their vote on a rational evaluation of the broader question: What course of action is best for the public education system in our state?

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