SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Legislature opened for business Monday amid economic concerns over a potential deficit projected to be as much as $300 million.
Lawmakers opened the 45-day session, which runs from the fourth Monday in January until March, with pomp and circumstance.
Members of the Utah National Guard posted the colors, and Linda K. Evans, general president of the Relief Society Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the invocation in the Senate.
The gavel came down in the state Senate at approximately 10:35 a.m., and the House convened at 10:18 a.m.
In the House, Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, used her opening remarks to blast the federal government for budget uncertainty on states and to urge local lawmakers to exercise restraint.
"Let's find solutions that don't further burden our incubators of innovation for this great country. Utah taxpayers are saddled with the 29th-highest tax burden in the country. For a state that prides itself on low taxes and good management, that seems awfully high, don't you think?"
It was a day to formalize the new organization of both bodies.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, took the oath of office to oversee the Senate from retiring Senate President Michael Waddoups. Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was chosen to serve as majority whip.
Niederhauser, a native of Tremonton, used his new position to reminisce about his path to the leadership post and told a story about an experience he had as a 7-year-old at North Park Elementary School, where he forged his mother's signature on a cashier's check to pay $5 for a meal ticket, instead of using a $5 bill his father had given him.
He said he marveled at the great system that allowed him to keep money designated for the expenses, while writing a bad check to cover the costs.
His mother, who worked at a local bank, called him on the carpet over the check a week later.
He used the experience to point out the perils of spending money the government doesn't have.
"We have people today who think we can create money out of thin air. One day, the checking account has to be covered. Even a second-grader knows that," Niederhauser said.
He suggested local lawmakers may feel pressure in the 45-day session to spend money they don't have.
"Legislators sometimes think they can legislate over natural law. It's often done in terms of entitlement, comparison or defense. Forgetting is easy in the heat of the session, when our constituents are bearing down on us," the Senate president said.
Besides finances, other key issues this session are expected to range from immigration to funding for public education.