Liveblogging the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee: October 25, 2007

Another meeting, another liveblogging. It looks like this meeting will likely be starting late; Rep. Frank appears to be the only one here so far. Keep obsessively hitting those refresh buttons, folks.

1:46PM The meeting is over. I'll have a summary up later today.

1:45PM The next meeting is tentatively set for Wednesday November 7 at 9AM. They're likely to be discussing the potential legislation based on these tentative new laws, so UTOPIA supporters need to show up in force!

1:41PM The RUS money was about $66.2M for UTOPIA.

1:39PM Zing! Yep, Qwest gets a lot of USF money. $85M would make a big difference to UTOPIA if they could participate.

1:37PM I don't get it. The UTOPIA reps have to repeat themselves every single meeting, mainly at the insistence of Sen. Stephenson. I don't mean to be rude, but Senator, it might be time to do some private reading on the topic since it seems their answers and explanations aren't sticking.

1:33PM It seems like Sen. Stephenson and David Shaw are kind of talking past each other. Sen. Stephenson wants to know what the implications are of a private entity choosing to join UTOPIA and Mr. Shaw is trying to deflect the larger implication that UTOPIA would be "cherry picking" service areas.

1:30PM And… we're back to the whole "green field" discussion. Sen. Stephenson, haven't we beaten this dead horse enough?

1:26PM The committee has called UTOPIA representatives Roger Tew and David Shaw up to answer some more questions on how the current arrangement works. As I read more of this document and its proposals, I see more and more how it's a solution in search of a problem. UTOPIA seems to agree.

1:21PM This is really bad. Not only would the prospective member city have to hold a city-wide vote to join, each existing member city would have to do the same for each applying member! This would be a crazy expensive proposition that would practically kill off any new members. This reeks of Qwest and its anti-UTOPIA ways.

1:17PM The anti-UTOPIA legislation is being planned, but just isn't drafted yet. Proposed restrictions include banning non-pledging members, prohibiting new membership until the existing buildout is complete in pledging cities and require voters in a city to approve membership. These are some seriously restrictive proposals and you can be I'll be fighting against them!

1:14PM We're now moving on to discussing UTOPIA.

1:05PM This won't be very interesting. The discussion is about some technical amendments for waste disposal companies. Snore.

1:02PM The meeting is back in session.

12:04PM The committee is breaking for lunch. They will resume at 1PM.

12:03PM I provided some comments to make sure that UTOPIA cities don't end up with a bunch of extra costs due to the financial reporting requirements. Seems like they could end up being safe.

11:59AM Okay, fair enough. The reporting could keep cities honest by preventing them from doing cross-subsidizing like the incumbent telco and cableco carriers have done.

11:57AM The UAC is concerned that this legislation can be used in a retaliatory way against municipalities operating services the state doesn't want them to operate. A valid concern given the Real Salt Lake funding and the land dispute in North Salt Lake disputes that ended up being resolved by the legislature.

11:47AM Murray City is being cited as a model for proper accounting between core functions and ancillary functions. The ULCT's position is that compelling cities as to the manner they use to balance the books will likely jack up costs and provide few (if any) advantages over the current city practices.

11:36AM Oh my. If there's any person or business within 30 miles providing a similar service, a municipality would have to comply with these accounting rules. That's a very low threshold and could apply to all but the most remote of cities. That's pretty onerous. Sen. Goodfellow raises the point that this could lead to abusive monopolies.

11:34AM This is a new set of requirements that cities must create distinct budgets for any activity that competes (or could compete) with private enterprise. Penalties would include withholding of state funding. Since pledging UTOPIA cities have already been setting aside funds to satisfy the bond, I wonder if that would already comply. The real question is what impact this could have on non-pledging cities that didn't plan to be on the hook for any monies.

11:30AM We've now moved on to the "separate accounting" requirements for municipalities.

11:21AM Sen. Stephenson, that's kind of a technicality. Yes, municipalities exist more-or-less at the pleasure of the state, but that doesn't make top-down solutions the right thing to do. I've gotten the feeling that the problems with public/private competition are greatly overstated as there appear to be relatively few concrete examples of this being an issue. Most telling is that there haven't been a lot of business owners here to describe how they've been harmed to the point where this is necessary.

11:12AM Just noticed that the rep from Qwest that was at the Woods Cross meeting is here as well. If you aren't listening along, I don't think you're missing much if you're not listening along. A lot of words are being passed around, but not much new is being said.

11:01AM YES! We don't need this over-reaching legislation! It definitely is "using a sledgehammer to address a thumbtack."

10:59AM The current policy board has, to at least one member's recollection, never had someone act contrary to its recommendations. Given this, there's not really a need to create an official enforcement arm to carry out their recommendations.

10:53AM Sen. Goodfellow asked what too many of us in Utah have asked: how can the legislature complain about No Child Left Behind and then exercise top-down authority on cities? Mr. Van Tassel from the Utah Taxpayers Association was put on the spot with that one, but he seems to think that we're in a situation where a top-down approach is called for. It should be no surprise that I totally disagree with him.

10:45AM The discussion has been a back and forth on the rights of municipalities and the rights of the state. I get the feeling this is going to be quit the philosophical showdown during the next legislative session. Keep your eyes on this fight, folks.

10:35AM There's a distinct possibility that due to the Municipal Cable Television and Public Telecommunications Services Act, entities like iProvo and UTOPIA could be construed by the courts as exempt from these provisions since those functions are expressly granted by the legislature.

10:24AM It sounds suspiciously like this proposed commission could be used abusively to harass cities. While I can understand the need to keep government competition with the private sector to a minimum, this is seeming like another case where the state is butting in where it's not invited. The real question is if this system will be used by Qwest and Comcast to file various complaints against UTOPIA and member cities.

10:12AM Uh-oh. Counties aren't much going to care for it either. Specifically, the deck of council/commission membership seems to be stacked in favor of unelected officials making up the rules.

10:10AM I think the last rep was from ULCT. The Utah Association of Counties now has a rep on the stand.

10:08AM The cities might be prepared to fight if this proposed legislation if it is far too over-reaching. Specifically, the "Ripper Clause" of the Constitution prohibits state-created entities from interfering in municipal functions. Sounds like a potential Constitutional roadblock, but since when has that stopped the legislature?

10:04AM And here comes the friction. A representative of the cities (didn't catch the name) has the feeling that cities are not going to be happy about having a state-mandated fee structure and being told how they can use their own buildings.

9:58AM Sen. Goodfellow made the good point that simply raising the issue of private competition is usually enough to get cities to tread lightly.

9:49AM This is getting a bit on the complicated side. There's going to be both a council and a commission; the former will be responsible for defining what will be within their purview and the commission will be responsible for creating and enforcing directives per the advice of the council. This sounds like some pricey and over-reaching regulation that could impede offering municipal services and smells a bit like a unfunded mandate.

9:46AM It sounds like this "upgrade" from policy board to commission is going to extend the authority from just state activities to county and municipal activities. I'm also gathering that there's some level of vagueness regarding what kinds of activities it will be reviewing. There will be a "white list" of allowed activities (probably stuff like police and fire), though the contents of said list aren't very specific.

9:38AM They're now moving on to talking about the proposed legislation. None of this should directly affect UTOPIA, though you never know what will weasel its way in between now and January.

9:36AM The argument right now seems to be that the proposed legislation would be redundant in some cases. After all, you aren't going to bond or enter into a contract without some detailed analysis. It seems like yet another top-down solution from the state.

9:33AM Sounds like the proposed economic impact studies are going to be a bit too onerous for rural towns where a private provider may not be available. In other words, why do a study to assess the affect on the services that aren't being provided? Good question.

9:30AM Sen. Jenkins is now speaking on economic impact studies.

9:29AM A new agenda item was added concerning waste disposal companies. Thank goodness we don't have any UTOPIA-related surprises… yet.

9:27AM Only about a half hour late. Not too bad. Looks like we have Reps. Frank, Cosgrove and Duckworth and Sens. Stephenson, Goodfellow and Niederhauser present. Rep. Garn won't be present and Rep. Morley is on his way.

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2 Responses to Liveblogging the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee: October 25, 2007

  1. Tom says:

    Hey Cool! If Joining or being a part of UTOPIA requires everyone to vote, then the same should follow for every single bill legislature passes. We should vote for that too. They should propose them and we will vote every year. No letting them pass any laws or rules without a full vote of the Stat of Utah.

    Or does that only apply to UTOPIA and not for any other type of organization/law/bill/etc????

    Love to hear how they explain that UTOPIA is different than everything else. We elected people (city council) and if they went for it why is that different the legislature passing laws? Elected officials?

  2. Jesse says:

    The irony wasn’t lost on me either. I wonder what exactly the criteria is for determining what requires a vote of the people and what is best left to elected officials.

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