This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The special session in which lawmakers refused to consider paying to fix poor Utahns' teeth but approved an underground Capitol Hill parking garage lasted only a day.
The payback for putting them in that embarrassing box undoubtedly will last longer.
Angry about being forced into that "miserly, heartless legislator" image by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Republican lawmakers fired back at the governor, demanding another special session to cut income taxes.
In the political equivalent of a cheap slap, House Republicans called Huntsman out. Rejecting the governor's intellectual arguments for a methodical review of comprehensive tax reform, legislators demand Huntsman call another special session "Now!" to give "the People" back $70 million still sitting in state coffers.
House Majority Whip Steve Urquhart said lawmakers are tired of waiting for the governor to act on tax reform. "To say that we took one run at it and now we are done, that just defeats what I always thought was the fundamental purpose - to give some tax relief to our constituents," Urquhart said Thursday. "What are we trying to do: put a trophy on the shelf or get tax relief? I hope it is the latter."
The governor responded: "I have no plans for another special session."
One day after an almost-10-hour special session ended, Huntsman was still dealing with the fallout of his decision to force lawmakers to consider diverting $2 million to the state's Medicaid budget to cover emergency dental care for tens of thousands of disabled, blind and elderly Utahns. Senators refused even to debate the bill Wednesday and a similar bill died in the House Rules Committee. House members also killed a bill giving the governor and other state executives a cost-of-living raise, in what Huntsman's staff believe was an act of retribution.
At his monthly televised KUED news conference Thursday, the governor insisted everything is fine. While lamenting the "human" cost of the failed Medicaid bill, the governor promised to continue trying to find funding for the program.
"I just have a hard time making the political arguments," Huntsman said. "There are people out there who are in need. And it's up to us as decision-makers to address those in real terms, not political terms."
But one day after the spectacular failure of the Medicaid bill, lawmakers and Medicaid advocates say the governor has to acknowledge that the legislation got caught up in a power struggle between the executive and the legislative branches of state government.
"Whatever's going on, health and human service issues are getting caught up in the political battle that's going on," said West Jordan Republican Rep. Steve Mascaro.
And while the governor might have won the public relations battle, casting himself as a compassionate conservative, the lawmakers who ended up looking like curmudgeons will not soon forget.
Some argued the governor's request violated time-honored budget-making processes.
"I am uncomfortable with the governor making budget decisions," said Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, in the House Republican caucus Wednesday. "I can't get my hands around how we have been placed in this box."
Senate President John Valentine said opposition to the bill was more practical: Lawmakers simply didn't understand the governor's math. "Everyone was so confused, there was so much uncertainty. Whenever you create that much uncertainty during a special session, things are going to fail," Valentine said. "It just wasn't going to happen. It just was not ripe for the session."
Huntsman insists the Medicaid funding was always one of his top priorities. "I've been very consistent," he said. "They shouldn't have been surprised."
But lawmakers note the governor never brought it up during the 2006 Legislature. Huntsman's spokesman says the governor was willing to expend "political capital" to push the bill through. But during the special session, governor's office staff apparently stopped lobbying for the bill early in the day.
Governor's Office Legislative Liaison Mike Mower acknowledged that a headcount in a closed-door Senate GOP caucus earlier in the day made it clear the legislation likely was dead.
Still, lawmakers expected to be lobbied.
Urquhart chalks it up to the governor's "naivete and inexperience."
"In politics, when someone wants something, they need to battle for it," the St. George Republican said. "I didn't have one call, not one note, from anyone in the administration.
"Why put it on the call if you don't care enough about it to work for it," he added. "What are we doing? Are we out placating special interests or do we really care about this stuff? If we are going to do it, let's be serious about it."
The governor said he and his staff did their "best." And he would put the item on the special session agenda again if he had to do it over.
"It wasn't for lack of trying," Huntsman said Thursday. "It was the only way, in retrospect. We weren't successful. We will try a different approach. There's no point in Monday morning quarterbacking."
Whatever the reason for the bill's demise, Valentine said lawmakers and the Governor's Office need to do their homework before another special session, reading legislation, agreeing to compromises and lining up the votes.
"We should have worked out those details. And the governor should have achieved consensus and had the votes before we got into a special session," the Orem Republican said. "That's a lesson learned for all of us."
In the end, Utahns on Medicaid and the public will end up paying the price for politics on Capitol Hill. About 40,000 elderly, blind and disabled Utahns could have gotten emergency dental care - teeth pulled and root canals, for example - with the funding. Instead, Mascaro says, they now will go to emergency rooms, seek charity care or will be treated in state prisons.
"We did not save $2 million by cutting this out of Medicaid," Mascaro said. "All we did was multiply that cost many times over and turn it over to the public to pay in catchall systems. The public is not being well-served."
Tribune reporters Matt Canham and Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.
House Republicans have posted on their Web site a demand for an immediate special session to approve a tax cut.
The petition signed by 43 GOP lawmakers is headlined: "Tax Relief Now!"
It says in part:
"We ask that the Governor - who has sole discretion to convene a special session of the Legislature - allow the process to move forward. Let us give $70 million of the People's money back to them. Our citizens deserve nothing less."
The entire declaration can be seen at: