HOOPER — As Utah legislators prepare for the 45-day session, which kicks off Monday, Rep. Mike Schultz says safeguarding the interests of northern Utah will be key for him.
“I’m there for northern Utah as a whole — Weber, Davis and Box Elder County,” he said.
What’s good for one, is good for the other, said the Hooper Republican, whose district straddles Weber and Davis counties. Thus, his focus will be promoting cooperation among the zone’s representatives, with a focus on bringing good-paying jobs to the state’s northern tier.
More specifically, Schultz — the majority whip and highest-ranking House member from Weber County — said a particular area of import for northern Utah will be possible creation of satellite locations that would serve the planned inland port in Salt Lake City. “We want to make sure northern Utah is in a position to pick up one or two satellite spots,” he said, whether via legislation or by being at the negotiating table as the issue is discussed.
The port, based in northwestern Salt Lake County, would be a transshipment point, of sorts, for goods being transported around the country. Other locations in Utah complementing it will likely be needed, according to Schultz.
Specific to Ogden, he foresees continued efforts to distribute state prison parolees more evenly around the state. As is, many come to the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center in Ogden, but legislation approved in 2018 lays the groundwork to disperse them to more locations and those efforts need to continue.
“That’s not fair to northern Utah. It’s certainly not fair to Ogden,” said Schultz. Advancing the earlier efforts of Jeremy Peterson, the former House member from Ogden who zeroed in on the issue, will be a priority, but Schultz wouldn’t get into specifics.
The planned expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, outlined in a voter-approved measure in November, will likely be a priority, with possible tweaks to the plan to keep expected costs in check. The tax increase in the measure approved won’t be enough to cover anticipated costs after about two years, Schultz said, necessitating change to prevent undue strain on the state budget.
“We’ve got to find some ways to put some caps in place,” he said. As is, he warned, expenses of the program could exceed incoming tax revenue by $65 million by the fourth year of the expansion.
In December, lawmakers tweaked the voter-approved proposition from November that legalizes medical marijuana. Schultz doesn’t foresee any additional action on that in the near term, though it could be the focus of attention down the road as the idiosyncrasies of the change become apparent.
Cooperation among northern Utah lawmakers isn’t a new thing. In fact, it’s the mantra of many in the zone, who say unity is needed to counter the power of Salt Lake and Utah counties.
But officials are more focused on it now, according to Schultz. “If we’re working together as northern Utah, we can get a lot more accomplished,” he said.