A funny thing happened on the way to the appropriations committee…
Late yesterday, the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee met to finalize it budget, and the third item on the agenda was the approval of federal funds to the tune of $71 million.
Before the committee outlined the programs they would fund with the federal dollars, Representative Mike Noel (R – Kanab) and Senator Margaret Dayton (R – Orem) decided to send out some red meat.
“I just wanted everybody to be aware that the $71 million we are depending on the federal government to fund us with may not exist in the future.” Noel said prior to the vote. Dayton added, “that is probably $71 million that [the federal government] probably took from us in the first place, or less, or more, who knows? Probably more, and are returning it with their strings. It really is our money, the question that we really have to resolve is how many of their strings to we have to accept to do with our own money that shouldn’t have left here in the first place.” A motion was then made to reject the federal money, which was expected to fail as there was no way the committee could pay for all the projects they had just added to the budget without the funds.
Sensing an opportunity to make a big statement, and hold the Republicans to their rhetoric, the three Democrats on the committee – Senator Jim Dabakis (Salt Lake City), Representative Susan Duckworth (Magna) and Representative Larry Wiley (West Valley) – shocked everyone by casting the deciding votes to reject the federal funds.
Due to rules set fourth in the appropriations committee, which is made up of both House and Senate members, at least half of the house or senate members have to agree with the adoption of such fees, and a majority of the members of the other chamber must motion to adopt. With the surprise vote of the Democrats, four of the six senators voted no, as did five of the nine representatives… causing the committee to reject federal funds for the 2013-14 fiscal year as it relates to natural resources.
This sent the committee into a tailspin as the unprecedented action prompted questions such as, “What does that mean?” from Representative Roger Barrus (R – Centerville). Ivan Djambov, Fiscal Analyst for the legislature, said, “This has never happened before…if you vote that they do not accept the new grants for 2014…I think that [state agencies] won’t be able to use the [federal grants].” Djambov then reminded the legislators that they would most likely not be able to fund the various projects set as priorities for the committee. Barrus, after hearing this information, asked why lawmakers would vote the way they did.
Senator Kevin Van Tassell (R – Vernal) quickly reminded the committee that “we just shut down DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), we have probably shut down most of our conservation programs, most of our firefighters. I guess if that is what we want to do, as long as we know that is what we are doing.”
Ultimately, Representative Duckworth, Representative Mike McKell (R – Spanish Fork) and Senator Ralph Okerlund (R – Monroe) changed their votes before the vote closed, and the committee accepted the federal funds – allowing lawmakers to properly fund the projects further down on the agenda.
“We decided to give Republicans exactly what they wanted – an opportunity to reject federal funds,” Dabakis said after the meeting. “Of course, once we did, the place fell into anarchy.”
**UPDATE** To listen to the committee hearing, click here and listen to the first 20 minutes.