Tag Archives: Utah

The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

15 Lawmakers Plotting to Privatize America’s Public Lands

Source: EcoWatch, March 17, 2017

…Despite the irreplaceable value these places hold, in recent years, a concerted effort has been driven forward by certain senators and U.S. representatives to seize, dismantle, destroy and privatize our public lands. These lawmakers are backed by fossil fuel corporations and other extractive industries that already squeeze massive profits out of America’s public lands and only want more. In order to realize this goal, every year these corporations push millions of dollars toward federal lawmakers to motivate them to introduce and pass legislation that would have the effect of either fully privatizing public lands or opening them up to unfettered extraction and development. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a report that analyzed 132 bills that were introduced in the past three congressional sessions, between 2011 and 2016, and identified the lawmakers who authored and cosponsored the greatest number of these bills. The list of “Public Lands Enemies” that emerged includes nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives and six U.S. senators from eight western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

These 15 Public Lands Enemies are:
1. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
2. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st District)
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
4. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz., 4th District)
5. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
6. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah, 2nd District)
7. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska, At Large)
8. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
9. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, 1st District)
10. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah, 3rd District)
11. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev., 2nd District)
12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
13. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M., 2nd District)
14. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif., 4th District)
15. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

Read full report.

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign To Sell Off America’s Public Lands
Source: Matt Lee-Ashley, ThinkProgress, June 18, 2014

…According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website. Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions….

S.L. County launching 2 programs serving at-risk homeless, repeat offenders

Source: McKenzie Romero, Deseret News, December 19, 2016

After two years of preparation, Salt Lake County is ready to launch two data-driven and results-based programs addressing persistent homelessness and treatment for men at risk of repeated trips to jail. Calling the plan a “new frontier” for delivering essential services while safeguarding taxpayer interests, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said $11.5 million will go toward two projects kicking off early next year with the goal of eventually serving an estimated 550 people. The launch comes just days after Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced the locations of four new homeless shelters to be established around the city, and the eventual closure of the Road Home facility, operated by one of the two nonprofit organizations partnering in the county program. … In January, the Road Home will begin work on its Homes Not Jail project, which will provide a place to live for those who have been homeless for 90 to 364 days in hopes of keeping them from becoming homeless for much longer. The program is expected to serve 315 people. … Later in 2017, First Steps House will receive funds for its “REACH” initiative, which aims to provide comprehensive intervention, support and treatment for an estimated 225 men who have been incarcerated and are becoming repeat offenders. The acronym REACH stands for recovery, engagement, assessment, career and housing. …. Support for the “pay for success” programs has come from the Gail and Larry H. Miller Foundation, the Ray & Tye Noorda Foundation, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Living Cities, Synchrony Bank, Zions Bank, Northern Trust, QBE Insurance Group Limited, Ally Bank and the Reinvestment Fund. …

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Salt Lake County budget up for public hearings, with focus on ‘Pay for Success’
Source: Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune, December 4, 2016

Two public hearings are on the Salt Lake County Council’s agenda Tuesday. The first, at 4 p.m., will seek public comment on Mayor Ben McAdams’ proposal to invest $3.75 million in two “Pay for Success” programs, one aiming to reduce homelessness, the other to lower jail recidivism. … The council wants to apply $500,000 to extending substance abuse and mental-health treatment services from April to July for people entered into programs through the recent Operation Diversion roundups in downtown Salt Lake City. That joint county-city effort is aimed at curbing illegal drug trafficking by arresting dealers and diverting addicts into treatment. Another $250,000 would be dedicated, in the council plan, to an initiative to combat opioid abuse. The county district attorney’s office helped kick off the effort earlier this fall, providing funding to equip Unified Police Department officers with anti-overdose kits. The Pay for Success plan is a key piece of both McAdams’ budget, which does not require a tax increase, and his multiyear plan to address criminal-justice reform by attacking its root causes. … Both programs are designed to achieve specific success rates based on a variety of criteria. If the programs reach those benchmarks, the county will repay the investors with interest. If they don’t succeed, the county has no repayment obligations. Nelson told the council that four senior lenders would invest up to $6.5 million:

• Northern Trust Bank in Chicago.
• Ally Bank in Midvale.
• Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based “catalyst for change in low-income communities.”
• QBE Insurance from Australia.

Another $2 million in subordinate loans have been pledged by the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center at the University of Utah and New York City-based Living Cities, a collaboration of foundations and financial institutions dedicated to low-income urban residents.

Poll: Half of Utahns Want to Privatize Liquor Sales

Source: Bob Bernick, Utah Policy, October 5, 2016

Half of all Utahns favor the state government getting out of the liquor retail business, a new UtahPolicy poll finds. Don’t expect that to happen any time soon, however. Liquor law changes in Utah historically must get the blessing of leaders of the Mormon Church, and alcohol control has been a hallmark of the church’s liquor policy for years in its home state. In a new UPD poll, Dan Jones & Associates finds that 49 percent of Utahns favor privatizing liquor sales in the state. … You can see from this Utah Taxpayers Association “Fast Tax” pamphlet that in fiscal year 2014-2015 (the latest numbers) that state government took in $8.2 million in the beer tax and $95.4 million in profit from its state liquor stores. Ten percent of liquor sales, or $41 million, automatically goes into public education, by law. The Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has been under fire for several years for poor management, underpaying its store sales staff and other issues. That has led some lawmakers to argue the state should just get out of the alcohol business, and let private entities sell liquor under state licensing and oversight – with the state taxing the sales in some manner. …

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State liquor outlets should run more like convenience stores, Utah auditor says
Source: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News, September 27, 2016

Utah’s state-run liquor outlets would better serve customers if they were operated more like convenience stores, according to the state auditor, though he stopped short of calling for privatization. A state audit of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control released Tuesday shows its management lacks the flexibility, data and tools to reach the “level of operational success we expect,” Auditor John Dougall said. … The audit found:
• Stores could be better staffed to handle customers, especially at peak hours.
• Ordering and stocking products could be improved.
• Wages are lower than other liquor-control states but comparable to convenience stores.
• DABC has inadequate tracking and evaluating of store costs.

Privatization, prices debated at Utah alcohol summit
Source: Dawn House, Salt Lake Tribune, September 06, 2012

Researchers disagreed Thursday on whether states, like Utah, that control alcohol distribution do better at curbing drunken driving, underage drinking and overconsumption, but they agreed on one sure-fire way to reduce such social ills: boost the price of booze.
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Audit reveals UDOT needs better oversight of contractors, consultants

Source: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News, August 2, 2016

Utah Department of Transportation contractors incorrectly installed 109 signs on a state road in Tooele and another dozen unsafe signs on Bangerter Highway, according to a new legislative audit. The Office of the Legislative Auditor General cited those mistakes as examples of UDOT needing to better oversee contractors and consultants on road projects…..

….UDOT is the subject of two legislative audits released Tuesday. One reviews the agency’s performance and the other takes an in-depth look at its budget, which can reach $1 billion in years with large construction projects. The audit found that because UDOT’s bidding process only considers price and time, contractors with poor performance records have the same opportunity to win bids as high-quality firms. The agency has failed to hire two full-time performance auditors as the Legislature required 21 years ago. Also, the department has used more expensive consultants the past eight years to do the work of vacant full-time jobs. A sampling of three positions showed consultants can cost three times more per hour than in-house staff. UDOT employs about 1,600 people, most of them in operations and maintenance….
Related:
A Performance Audit of the Utah Department of Transportation
Source: State of Utah, Office of the Legislative Auditor General, Report to the Utah Legislature, Number 2016-06, August 2016

An In-Depth Budget Review of the Utah Department of Transportation
Source: State of Utah, Office of the Legislative Auditor General, Report to the Utah Legislature, Number 2016-05, August 2016

SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS

Source: Jessica Hathaway, NCSL, July 12, 2016
Overview

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), a type of pay-for-success funding agreement, are a private financing mechanism used to fund social programs. SIBs are gaining interest from policymakers at all levels of government as a way to mitigate the simultaneous demands of tight budgets and rising social service costs. To date, state level SIB activity has centered on legislative efforts to authorize the process, create study committees, begin pilot projects, engage in feasibility studies and learn which types of programs this financing tool can be effectively used for. …

Use of Social Impact Bonds at the State Level

At least 24 states and the District of Columbia have considered, are considering or are implementing SIB related projects. Of these, 11 states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah —and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation. Legislative introductions and enactments range from establishing study committees to creating funds and supporting pilot projects. Enacted legislative actions are listed below. …

See list of enacted Social Impact Bond bills.

The For-Profit Probation Maze: A for-profit “offender-funded probation” payment system unfairly penalizes, and often traps, the poor

Source: J. Weston Phippen, National Journal, December 16, 2015

In the Mis­sis­sippi Delta town of Green­wood, a for-profit com­pany prom­ised city lead­ers it could take over its cash-strapped pro­ba­tion sys­tem without any ex­pense to tax­pay­ers. Not only that, but the com­pany said it could ac­tu­ally turn a profit for it­self, and the city, by col­lect­ing fines. Just eight months later, nearly 10 per­cent of the town’s 15,000 pop­u­la­tion was on pro­ba­tion for minor of­fenses like traffic vi­ol­a­tions and ow­ing fees to the com­pany. By the time city lead­ers real­ized the dam­age, the com­pany had en­titled it­self to profits of at least $48,000 a month, all paid for, as one county of­fi­cial said, “off the backs of the poor people.” …..

The For-Profit Probation Maze

Op-ed: Utah schools deserve better than pseudo-science of ‘Pay for Success’

Source: Luke Garrott, Salt Lake City Council member, Salt Lake Tribune, November 11, 2015

… It does to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, whose “Pay for Success” program got skewered by The New York Times last week (“Did Goldman Make the Grade?”). You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to know that a rigged game brings predictable results. In the case of Salt Lake County’s program, at least two measures were completely off. They applied the wrong test (nationally the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test is not used, especially by itself, to determine whether a child needs special ed) and administered it in the wrong language (the Spanish-speaking pre-schoolers were given the test in English). … And it’s good business for the investors, who get paid back, with interest, by Salt Lake County, United Way and, if the program continues, the state of Utah. Bravo, Salt Lake County, for investing in pre-K education. Boo and hiss, for defending a pseudo-scientific methodology that enables private capital to bilk public budgets and make money off public school kids.

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“Pay for Success” Gaining Traction as ECE Funding Option, But Should It Be?
Source: Aaron Loewenberg, New America Ed Central, November 6, 2015

… The results of the partnership between Goldman Sachs and Utah were initially hailed as a pioneering effort, but recent questions have been raised about the program that cast it more as a cautionary tale. Several early education experts recently reviewed the specifics of the program and identified irregularities in the ways in which success is measured. Specifically, the experts point to a lack of evidence concerning the number of children who would have required special education services without the preschool program. It turns out that the success of the program may be overstated due to a lack of accurate means to measure success. … Critics claim that social impact bonds put private profit ahead of the public good. Specifically, Mark Rosenman, professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University, argues that too much use of social impact bonds could lead to cuts in public investment if government becomes too reliant on private financing. Rosenman criticizes investment groups such as Goldman Sachs that invest in social impact bonds while simultaneously working to avoid paying the taxes that typically fund public programs.

Success Metrics Questioned in School Program Funded by Goldman
Source: Nathaniel Popper, New York Times, November 3, 2015

Yet since the Utah results were disclosed, questions have emerged about whether the program achieved the success that was claimed. Nine early-education experts who reviewed the program for The New York Times quickly identified a number of irregularities in how the program’s success was measured, which seem to have led Goldman and the state to significantly overstate the effect that the investment had achieved in helping young children avoid special education. … The big problem, researchers say, is that even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent. The program’s unusual success — and the payments to Goldman that were in direct proportion to that success — were based on what researchers say was a faulty assumption that many of the children in the program would have needed special education without the preschool, despite there being little evidence or previous research to indicate that this was the case.

Goldman Sachs paid to expand pre-K in Utah. It worked.
Source: Libby Nelson, Vox, October 19, 2015

The loan allowed Utah to expand the program to 595 more 3- and 4-year-olds last year, about half of the waiting list. All of them were from low-income families, and 110 were expected to need special education in elementary school. But this year, when students were tested in kindergarten, only one of them did. That saved the state $281,550, according to the United Way. Investors will get a payment of $267,473, with additional payouts to follow if the students continue not to need special education in grade school.

Goldman nets payout as social impact bond project in Utah meets targets
Source: Olivia Oran, Reuters, October 7, 2015

Goldman Sachs Group Inc and its investment partner will be paid $267,000 for helping to fund a philanthropic program that reduced the number of children needing special education services after preschool. The milestone marks a turnaround for so-called social impact bonds, which are issued by local governments in partnership with charities and private investors to fund philanthropic projects. Investors receive a return if a project saves public money. The first social bond project earlier this year failed to achieve its goals. … The results, which saved school districts and governments around $281,000 in total, triggered the first investor payment for any pay-for-success program in the United States. Goldman and Pritzker received a total payout of around 95 percent of those savings, or around $267,000.

For Goldman, Success in Social Impact Bond That Aids Schoolchildren
Source: Nathaniel Popper, New York Times, October 7, 2015

Financial results at Goldman Sachs are going to look a little bit better this quarter because of the educational success of 100 or so kindergarten pupils in Utah. … When the students were tested this year — after a year in preschool — and found not to need extra help, the State of Utah paid Goldman most of the money it would have spent on special education for the children. The payment represented the first time a so-called social impact bond paid off for investors in the United States.
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Campaign for America’s Future: New Report: Federal Funds for Charter Schools Go Into a ‘Black Hole’

Source: Jeff Bryant, National Education Policy Center, October 27, 2015

America’s experiment with charter schools has thus far generated academic results that are mixed, at best. Another promise, that these schools would be more educationally “innovative,” is also generally unfulfilled so far. Adding to those uncertainties posed by charter schools is another: Very little is known about how these schools have spent over $3.7 billion the federal government has used to fuel expansion of the charter industry since 1995. That’s the principal finding of a new report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, which looked for information about how much tax money coming from the federal government’s Charter School Program (CSP) goes to charters and how that money is spent and found that information is often “severely lacking.” … What the report does reveal, though, for the first time, is a list of actual schools that received grants from the CSP for start-up and “planning” expenses. In examining charter recipients of federal grants in just 12 states, mostly from 2010-2015, CMD investigators found millions in federal grant money going to charter schools that were closed after brief periods of service and to “ghost” charter schools that never opened. … Despite the obstruction to its information gathering, CMD’s report reveals startling examples of how individual charters that have received federal grant money under CSP have produced very little education benefit for students wile channeling taxpayer money to unknown pockets.

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Charter School Black Hole: CMD Special Investigation Reveals Huge Info Gap on Charter Spending
Source: Center for Media and Democracy, October 26, 2015

Indeed, no one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector. So CMD reviewed more than two decades of federal authorizations and appropriations to calculate the sum, which is now more than $3.7 billion—as noted in this new report. CMD also found that the federal government was not providing the public with a list of all the charter schools that received federal tax monies and how much. CMD also found that many states have not provided the public with ready information about the amounts of federal funding each charter has received under the federal “Charter School Program” (CSP) for state education agencies (SEAs), and that most states have not provided the public with information about the amounts in state and federal tax dollars that have been diverted to charters rather than spent strengthening traditional public schools. … In this investigation, CMD pursued numerous open records requests under federal or state law about how much federal CSP money had been given to charters and how that money was spent in 12 states. As a result, CMD found that public information about funds received and spent by charters is severely lacking. It also documented how little is known about spending by closed charters, and identified “ghost” schools, where federal grants were awarded to charters that never opened.

Below are a few key findings from the report:

Michigan: In 2011 and 2012, $3.7 million in federal taxpayer money was awarded to 25 Michigan “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. …

Ohio: Out of the 88 schools created by planning and implementation grants under CSP between 2008 and 2013, at least 15 closed within a few years; a further seven schools never even opened. These charters received more than $4 million in federal taxpayer money. Despite this track record, Ohio landed the biggest one-year grant by far in the 2015 competition for federal funding: $32.6 million. …

New York State: CMD discovered that almost every single application for the New York subgrants was written by the same multi-million-dollar charter consultancy firm: Charter School Business Management. …

Read full Report.

Negotiations collapse in effort to build Salt Lake City convention center hotel

Source: Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune, August 11, 2015

Plans to develop a convention-center headquarters hotel in downtown Salt Lake City are back at square one. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Tuesday that contract talks for Omni Hotels and Resorts to build a megahotel adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center — augmented with tax incentives from the state, county and Salt Lake City — have collapsed. … County Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove, who was on the losing end of a 6-3 vote when the council opted in 2012 to pursue a public-private partnership, applauded McAdams’ decision to walk away from the talks. “I’ve felt all along that a tax-subsidized hotel was wrong,” Snelgrove said. “It should be left to developers and the private sector. We’d be helping a new hotel compete against existing hotels. That’s not fair.” That’s the position of Utah Taxpayers Association Vice President Billy Hesterman. “Utah taxpayers should not be footing the bill for a plan that favors one business over another,” he said, noting existing hotels already pay millions in taxes yearly. “We look forward to when Utah’s convention and travel market can demand such a facility without taxpayer assistance.” … The legislation provided for a hotel developer to pick a site. It would receive post-performance tax breaks of up to $75 million to help underwrite construction of “public spaces” — meetings rooms, parking, utility lines — at the otherwise privately financed hotel. Projections estimated its cost at $335 million.

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Omni offers sole proposal for Salt Lake convention hotel
Source: Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, October 27, 2014

One developer has submitted a proposal to build a large hotel near the convention center in downtown Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County officials announced Monday. Friday was the deadline to apply for the project, which comes with $75 million in possible tax credits. The submitted proposal from Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts will now be reviewed by a county selection committee assigned to endorse a developer. … Utah state and local governments are offering up to $75 million in possible tax credits if the new hotel increases sales-tax revenues in the years after it opens. Some lawmakers and others worried that the project and incentive could harm existing hotels, so lawmakers also included an $8 million lifeline for existing hotels if they have vacancies once the new hotel opens.