2024 Legislative Recap

2024 Legislative Recap
Photo by Danny Burke / Unsplash

The conclusion of the 2024 legislative session in Utah brings with it a sobering moment of reflection. Decisions made by our elected representatives over the past few months have far-reaching implications for our communities and our future. It's important that we confront the stark realities of the 2024 session and chart a path forward that better aligns with the core values of Utahns, environmental stewardship, protecting personal freedoms, supporting families, maintaining critical social safety nets, and creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive state where everyone feels like they belong.

One of the most glaring examples of misplaced priorities during this session was the $2 billion subsidy for some of Utah’s wealthiest to build arenas for professional sports teams we may never recruit to Utah. That’s in addition to billions being stockpiled for unrealistic water development projects, the Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River Development Project. At a time when our state faces pressing challenges in education, healthcare, and economic inequality, it is unconscionable that such a staggering amount of taxpayer dollars would be squandered on vanity projects. Legislators claim we don’t have enough money to pay our teachers, many of whom don’t even have healthcare coverage. I don’t buy it. These are decisions we make. I think we should be prioritizing our children and communities over pie-in-the-sky and unnecessary development projects.

Compounding this session’s fiscal irresponsibility, for the fourth consecutive year, tax cuts for the wealthy have taken precedence over investments in public services and infrastructure. I am deeply concerned that a quarter of these tax cuts will exclusively benefit the top 1% of earners in our state (people who make over $630,000 per year), while the average Utahn sees a paltry $3 per month in savings. At a time when the median income stands at $64,000 per year, these tax cuts do little to alleviate the financial burdens faced by working families.
Rather than solving some of the most pressing problems of our time, the legislature chose to prioritize divisive and discriminatory measures targeting transgender individuals and reproductive rights. Bills sponsored by far right-wing lobbying groups also seek to undermine diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in our colleges and universities, further exacerbating divisions within our communities.

Moreover, the session was characterized by a blatant disregard for the needs and concerns of ordinary Utahns. Anti-union bills have decimated workers' rights, while the minimum wage remains stagnant at $7.25, unchanged since 2009.
Despite widespread recognition of the urgent need to address climate change, our state continues to prop up the coal industry at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. BS 224 was perhaps the worst, most backward-looking energy bill passed in America this year. That bill is a clear example of clumsy government overreach, requiring coal plants to be operated well beyond the time the energy sector has determined them to be obsolete. The bill also puts Utah taxpayers on the hook to keep these smog-breathing dinosaurs online even when renewables are a far more cost-effective option. Bills like this only make sense if the fossil fuel industry is paying the bills for your political party’s next campaign. Utah’s Republican party is simply owned by fossil fuel interests…it’s incumbent on all the rest of us to show Republicans that it’s not okay.

The assault on Utahns values extends beyond the legislative agenda, with attempts to erode fundamental democratic principles. The legislature made several efforts to drastically restrict mail-in voting and terminate pilot programs for ranked choice voting, though fortunately both were unsuccessful. The supermajority also set up a process to undermine federal laws, requiring state employees disobey federal laws if the Utah Legislature believes them to be unconstitutional. This not only threatens the foundation of our democracy, but puts state employees in an unacceptable position. The passage of legislation to keep legislators' calendars private epitomizes the lack of transparency and accountability that has come to define this session.

As we reflect on the 2024 legislative session, it is abundantly clear that partisanship, arrogance, and special interests have prevailed over the common good. But amidst the disappointment and frustration, there is hope. Our diversity is our strength, and together, we have the power to hold our elected officials accountable and demand a government that works for all Utahns, not just the wealthy few.

My ask to you? Come out to support candidates who are going to take Utah in a better direction. We can turn this around. But we need your help. Winning in November requires laying the foundation now. Get in touch. Sign up. Lean in. And let’s make this the Utah we want it to be.

-- Patrick Belmont