$1 billion transportation infrastructure bill could change Utah’s roads and public transportation


The spending plan could be made attainable by hundreds of thousands in federal funding from the American Rescue Plans Act.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner practice operator prepares to go away the station in Ogden on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

As time runs out on the 2022 normal session, Utah lawmakers are working behind the scenes to craft a large transit infrastructure invoice that may very well be price as a lot as $1 billion.

The issue is determining how you can pay for it.

Transportation spending, primarily specializing in highway building and public transit, is feasible due to federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) handed by Congress.

Utah obtained roughly $1.5 billion in federal cash by way of ARPA, however there are restrictions on how it may be spent. The concept: discover locations the place ARPA funds can change present income within the normal fund, which then frees up cash for the transit invoice.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, explains it’s not so simple as simply plugging the cash into the price range.

“We can not use all these ARPA funds for no matter we would like. That’s why we’ve put it into water tasks and different issues,” Stevenson mentioned.

That capacity to unencumber money for infrastructure wants with out pulling from one other pot of cash is a singular alternative. There may be not sufficient extra cash within the normal fund to cowl the scope of the tasks lawmakers are hoping to incorporate within the invoice with out the federal cash.

“We’ll by no means be capable to do that a lot once more,” mentioned a legislative supply with data of the infrastructure discussions, however who was not licensed to remark.

The increase in funding will go a protracted option to addressing Utah’s transportation wants, but it surely nonetheless just isn’t sufficient to cowl each want. The bottom price range for transportation in Utah this 12 months is about $2.8 billion. Extra transportation-related price range requests accounted for one more $1.2 billion in one-time cash and $800,000 in ongoing funds.

Utah added half one million new residents between 2010 and 2020, a mix of individuals shifting right here and Utahns having youngsters. That’s an 18.4% development price, the quickest within the nation.

And as such, Utah lawmakers have lately been on a transportation spending spree.

In 2021, they handed a $1.23 billion transit bundle that included $264 billion in bonds to double-track parts of the FrontRunner commuter rail. That proposal was pared down from its preliminary $2.26 billion price ticket after Republicans within the Senate balked at borrowing $1.4 billion by way of bonding.

Earlier than the 2022 session, legislative leaders put aside $200 million to rescind the FrontRunner bonds issued, saving the state hundreds of thousands in bond funds. Lawmakers are hoping to unencumber sufficient money to pay for all the transit tasks on this 12 months’s invoice with out borrowing, however bonds are once more a chance.

If public transit tasks are included within the remaining record, the state may have extra management over how that cash is spent. A present proposal — HB322, which nonetheless wants Senate debate — transfers oversight of public transit tasks funded with state cash from the Utah Transit Authority to the Utah Division of Transportation.

White House asks Congress for $6.4 billion for Ukraine crisis


The White Home requested Congress on Friday to approve $6.4 billion in assist to handle the humanitarian and safety disaster in Ukraine after Russia invaded the nation this week, Biden administration and congressional aides stated. (Tom Brenner, Reuters)

Estimated learn time: 2-3 minutes

WASHINGTON — The White Home requested Congress on Friday to approve $6.4 billion in assist to handle the humanitarian and safety disaster in Ukraine after Russia invaded the nation this week, Biden administration and congressional aides stated.

“In a latest dialog with lawmakers, the administration recognized the necessity for extra U.S. humanitarian, safety, and financial help to Ukraine and Central European companions as a consequence of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion,” an official from the White Home Workplace of Administration and Price range stated.

The request included $2.9 billion in safety and humanitarian help and $3.5 billion for the Division of Protection.

Congressional aides stated the administration had made the request on Friday at a briefing for employees from congressional management workplaces and related committees, together with the appropriations committees that set spending.

Congress, which is managed by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats, would contemplate the $2.9 billion in funding for the State Division and USAID as an emergency invoice, with funding for the Pentagon thought-about later, congressional aides stated.

The cash would additionally cowl the implementation and enforcement of the sanctions Biden is enacting to punish Russia for its aggression towards Ukraine.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, stated he would work carefully with the administration to handle the disaster.

“The US authorities wants to offer the mandatory assets to assist our allies and help the harmless folks caught in the midst of this unnecessary calamity,” he stated in a press release.

The newly requested funds would increase the $650 million in safety help and $52 million in humanitarian help the US has already dedicated to Ukraine over the previous yr, in addition to the $1 billion sovereign mortgage assure introduced final week.

A Biden administration official stated the dialog round funding wants would change because the state of affairs on the bottom evolves.

Earlier on Friday, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees international assist, stated he would assist $10 billion or extra to handle the disaster following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Departing from latest occasion divisions, each Biden’s fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans have expressed sturdy assist for sharp will increase in navy and humanitarian assist for Ukraine, with some calling for passage of an emergency spending invoice as quickly as subsequent week.

Russian missiles pounded Kyiv on Friday, households cowered in shelters and authorities advised residents to organize Molotov cocktails to defend Ukraine’s capital from an assault that the mayor stated had already begun with saboteurs within the metropolis.

Contributing: Andrea Shalal and Kanishka Singh

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Lawmakers add more than $2 billion to Utah’s budget. How do they plan to spend your tax dollars?


Tax cuts, training funding and water conservation are prime spending priorities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The solar units on the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Late Friday, legislative leaders added greater than $2 billion in spending to Utah’s finances for the subsequent fiscal yr, bringing the general price ticket to $24 billion. The spending spree consists of greater than $500 million in ongoing funding and $1.5 million in one-time spending.

The seven appropriations subcommittees spent the primary three weeks of the 2022 session reviewing budgets and requests for funding which they used to make their spending suggestions. Finances leaders then used these precedence funding lists to make the finances choices launched on Friday evening.

All the closing spending choices made by the Govt Appropriations Committee have been made out of the general public’s view with little or no public dialogue.

It wasn’t simply the general public stored at midnight on these budgeting selections. Most lawmakers noticed the funding checklist for the primary time on Friday afternoon. Home and Senate Republicans bought their first look throughout lunchtime caucus conferences. Democrats bought their first glimpse shortly earlier than afternoon ground time.

Friday morning Home Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, solely spoke in generalities about finances choices as a result of they weren’t public but.

“We’ve taken a few of the ongoing cash that was a part of our new income estimates, and we’ve set it apart to both put together for some potential troublesome instances financially sooner or later or perhaps a future tax minimize,” he stated, concerning whether or not the battle in Ukraine will affect the state finances. “There’s some issues we’re doing to attempt to make actually prudent monetary choices and put together for the unknown.”

Lawmakers plan to spice up per-pupil funding in Utah’s public colleges by about 6%. Earlier than the session, legislative leaders put aside $72 million. Friday’s spending checklist included one other $124.6 million.

General, legislative leaders added 9% to the general public training finances on Friday evening. The spending consists of $12 million to broaden elective all-day kindergarten, which is lower than the $22.7 million requested by the appropriations committee for public training.

Lawmakers took a extra vital improve in training funding off the desk earlier this yr by speeding via a $193 million revenue tax minimize bundle within the first half of this yr’s session. These cuts, which largely favor bigger households and higher-income Utahns, are paid for out of the Training Fund.

Friday’s finances proposal added $168 million in ongoing funds to public training, which is lower than the $193 million they put towards tax reduction.

The Social Companies finances consists of $55 million in one-time funding for a deeply inexpensive housing program. That’s lower than half the $127 million the Social Companies Appropriations Subcommittee prioritized on its spending checklist. Federal funding from the COVID-19 reduction packages handed by Congress could make up the distinction.

Curiously, the Social Companies funding checklist consists of $15 million for “housing preservation.” The precedence checklist from the appropriations committee didn’t have that funding request. Past the obscure title, there’s no info on the place the appropriation got here from or how it will likely be used.

The finances proposal consists of a number of expenditures for water conservation. There’s $200 million for secondary water metering, $30 million for Bear Lake preservation and $40 million to assist protect the Nice Salt Lake.

The Legislature added greater than $2 million to their finances for subsequent yr. The Utah Home added $1.29 million to the Home with one other $783,900 for the Senate. There’s little or no element on how the Home funding will likely be spent. The finances proposal solely mentions “crucial staffing” and bettering areas within the Capitol. The Senate funding improve consists of three full-time salaries and $100,000 for bettering the Senate lounge space.

The ultimate finances choices will likely be made subsequent week earlier than the session adjourns on Friday at midnight.

How the Utah Legislature plans to spend $2 billion — the ‘largest budget in state history’


Water conservation, infrastructure and public training are set to obtain landmark funding this 12 months as lawmakers accredited the finances on Friday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret Information)

Estimated learn time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Water conservation, infrastructure and public training are set to obtain landmark funding this 12 months as lawmakers accredited the finances on Friday.

“I believe we’re coping with the most important finances we have ever handled since state historical past,” mentioned Senate Price range Chairman Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, because the Government Appropriations Committee met on the Capitol.

The Utah Legislature had over $2 billion more money to spend this 12 months after new income estimates added an additional $432 million in one-time income and $384 million in ongoing funds than what was beforehand anticipated. The full quantity out there to spend this 12 months now consists of $1.46 billion in one-time cash and $570 million in ongoing new cash.

Stevenson advised reporters Friday this 12 months introduced a harder finances session than ordinary.

“As a result of there was some huge cash, however there’s quite a lot of confusion on how a lot cash we actually had due to the (American Rescue Plan Act) funds and the restrictions on how we may spend that,” he mentioned, explaining that funds must be returned if not used as outlined by the federal authorities.

Final week, Home leaders warned the cash nonetheless is not sufficient to fund the $2.5 billion in one-time requests and over $1 billion in ongoing requests by lawmakers.

What did get accredited within the finances Friday included one other $168.7 million in ongoing cash and about $270.9 million in one-time funds for public training, supposed for quite a few tasks together with $12.2 million for elective full-day kindergarten.

The finances marks a 9% enhance over final 12 months in public training spending, Senate leaders famous.

Pure sources, agriculture and environmental high quality tasks will obtain $50.6 million ongoing cash and $464.9 million in one-time cash — a lot of which is able to filter towards water tasks. That features $200 million one-time funding for secondary water metering; $30 million one-time cash for Utah Lake preservation; $25 million one-time for rural consuming water tasks; and $60 million one-time for the Bear Lake Marina enlargement.

Throughout a information convention on Friday, Home Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, mentioned the Legislature will proceed discussions a couple of constitutional modification for finances earmarks, however not this session.

“We do not have a scarcity of cash, we now have a scarcity of finances flexibility. It should must be addressed,” he mentioned. “As is commonly the case, typically you simply run out of time. And we felt like we’re getting up in opposition to the clock.”

Wilson mentioned the Legislature’s accredited finances will deal with “many wants of the state,” and reiterated that leaders do not plan to make use of this 12 months’s surplus to fund ongoing packages amid issues of future financial stress.

He acknowledged that the battle in Ukraine may have unexpected penalties on Utah’s financial system, and needs to protect in opposition to any “financial turbulence.”

“My private opinion is that if this does not get resolved in a peaceable manner quickly, it would have an effect on our state’s monetary scenario sooner or later,” Wilson mentioned, including that the finances will put aside some cash beforehand allotted to ongoing tasks to arrange for that risk.

Lawmakers have already budgeted $193 million for tax cuts, together with $163 million for an across-the-board earnings tax charge lower for all Utahns, dropping Utah’s earnings tax charge from 4.95% to 4.85%. Lawmakers additionally accredited a $15 million nonrefundable earned earnings tax credit score focused for lower-income Utahns and a $15 million enlargement for the state’s Social Safety tax credit score.

“Strategic and prudent planning is the Utah manner,” Senate President Stuart Adams mentioned in a press release after the finances obtained approval.

“Our frugal budgeting paved the way in which for our state to chop taxes for the second 12 months in a row and fund precedence finances objects like training, infrastructure, water conservation and social service packages at substantial ranges. Not solely are we funding these things, however we’re additionally saving cash to make sure our youngsters and grandchildren have the identical or higher high quality of life than we take pleasure in. Whereas Utah is in a robust monetary place, we’ll proceed to make fiscally conservative selections to make sure we stay an financial chief for our nation,” he mentioned.

Another finances highlights embody:

  • About $55 million in one-time funds for “deeply” inexpensive housing tasks.
  • Amid what lawmakers have described as a psychological well being disaster amongst first responders, $5 million one-time funds will assist pay for psychological well being packages for first responders and their households.
  • $12 million ongoing cash for movie incentives to draw productions to the state.
  • $91 million one-time funds for public training capital and expertise.
  • Assets for the homeless inhabitants, together with $55 million in one-time cash to determine the COVID-19 Homeless Housing and Companies Grant Program. and $3.5 million in one-time cash to extend teen facilities for college kids experiencing homelessness.
  • $21 million to broaden broadband entry throughout the state.
  • Greater than $55 million to fund police and correctional officer pay.
  • $3 million for an electrical automobile charging infrastructure in rural Utah.
  • $38 million for improved entry to outside recreation and state parks.

Contributing: Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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Justice Dept. Sues to Block $13 Billion Deal by UnitedHealth Group


WASHINGTON — The Justice Division on Thursday sued to dam a $13 billion acquisition of a well being know-how firm by a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, within the newest transfer by the Biden administration to clamp down on company consolidation.

The company argued {that a} deal by UnitedHealth to purchase the well being tech agency Change Healthcare would give UnitedHealth delicate knowledge that it may wield towards its rivals within the insurance coverage enterprise. The swimsuit was filed in U.S. District Court docket for the District of Columbia. New York and Minnesota additionally joined the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for Optum, the UnitedHealth subsidiary, stated in an announcement that the Justice Division’s “deeply flawed place relies on extremely speculative theories that don’t replicate the realities of the well being care system,” and added that the corporate would “defend our case vigorously.” A spokeswoman for Change Healthcare stated it was nonetheless “working towards closing the merger as we adjust to our obligations underneath the merger settlement.”

The deal is the newest transaction to run into opposition from the Biden administration, which has made countering company consolidation a central a part of its financial agenda. President Biden signed an government order final 12 months to spur competitors in several industries. He additionally appointed Lina Khan, a distinguished critic of the tech giants, to guide the Federal Commerce Fee and Jonathan Kanter, a lawyer who has represented giant firms, as chief of antitrust efforts on the Justice Division.

Since then, the F.T.C. has blocked Lockheed Martin from shopping for a maker of missile propulsion methods and the chip large Nvidia from buying the design agency Arm. Even earlier than Mr. Kanter was confirmed, the Justice Division sued to dam the merger of two main insurance coverage brokers; the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by the writer Penguin Random Home; and a deal that will have married a few of JetBlue’s operations with American Airways’.

“It’s half and parcel of this effort to be sure that markets actually are aggressive,” stated William Baer, who beforehand served as the top of the Justice Division’s antitrust division.

In an announcement, Legal professional Common Merrick B. Garland stated the company “is dedicated to difficult anticompetitive mergers, notably these on the intersection of well being care and knowledge.”

Optum stated final 12 months that it could purchase Change Healthcare, an organization that provides know-how providers to insurers. UnitedHealth is likely one of the largest well being firms within the nation, with $287.6 billion in income in 2021. Along with its well being care info know-how enterprise, its Optum unit owns doctor practices, a big chain of surgical procedure facilities and one of many nation’s largest pharmacy profit managers.

On the middle of the Justice Division’s lawsuit is the information that Change Healthcare gathers when it helps course of insurance coverage claims. The division argued that the deal would allow UnitedHealth to see the foundations that its rivals used to course of claims and undercut them. UnitedHealth may additionally crunch knowledge about sufferers at different insurers to achieve a aggressive benefit, the company stated.

The lawsuit claims that, based on a UnitedHealth estimate, greater than half of American medical insurance coverage claims “move by (or contact)” Change Healthcare’s methods. It says that UnitedHealth’s former chief government noticed the tech firm’s knowledge because the “basis” of the reasoning behind the deal.

The lawsuit additionally argued that UnitedHealth may withhold Change Healthcare’s merchandise — which different insurers use — from its rivals or save a few of its new improvements for itself. The Justice Division added that the deal would give UnitedHealth a monopoly over a sort of service that was used to display screen insurance coverage claims for errors and pace up processing.

The businesses have stated the acquisition will enhance effectivity within the business. Additionally they explored promoting the a part of Change Healthcare that the Justice Division stated would give UnitedHealth a brand new monopoly.

Lawmakers and regulators have more and more fearful that large companies may use troves of information to harm their rivals. A congressional committee has investigated whether or not Amazon makes use of knowledge from outdoors retailers who use its platform to develop competing merchandise, for instance. Critics of Fb have additionally argued that the corporate’s having years of consumer knowledge makes it tough for an upstart service to problem its dominance.

Since Mr. Kanter joined the antitrust division on the Justice Division, critics have stated he mustn’t oversee circumstances towards firms whose rivals he represented whereas in non-public apply. Based on a monetary disclosure kind he filed final 12 months, he as soon as represented Cigna, a significant insurer that competes with UnitedHealth, and the distant well being care firm Teladoc.

Mr. Kanter has not participated within the lawsuit towards UnitedHealth, an individual aware of the Justice Division’s case stated.

Reed Abelson contributed reporting.

4 U.S. companies will pay $26 billion to settle claims over the opioid crisis : NPR


Many of the funds from the settlement with producers and distributors of opioids corresponding to oxycodone will go to well being care and drug therapy packages designed to ease the opioid disaster.

Keith Srakocic/AP file photograph


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Keith Srakocic/AP file photograph


Many of the funds from the settlement with producers and distributors of opioids corresponding to oxycodone will go to well being care and drug therapy packages designed to ease the opioid disaster.

Keith Srakocic/AP file photograph

4 of the most important U.S. companies have agreed to pay roughly $26 billion to settle a tsunami of lawsuits linked to claims their enterprise practices helped gas the lethal opioid disaster.

Johnson & Johnson, the patron merchandise and well being large which manufactured generic opioid drugs, will contribute $5 billion to the settlement.

The corporate introduced in 2020 it could get out of the prescription opioid enterprise within the U.S. altogether.

Three huge drug wholesalers — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Well being and McKesson — pays a mixed $21 billion.

“This settlement represents actual accountability,” mentioned North Carolina state Lawyer Common Josh Stein, who helped negotiate the deal.

Stein famous a lot of the funds are earmarked for well being care and drug therapy packages designed to ease the opioid disaster.

“There can be individuals alive subsequent yr due to the packages and companies we can fund due to these settlement proceeds,” he mentioned.

Not one of the companies acknowledged any wrongdoing for his or her position manufacturing and distributing massive portions of ache drugs at a time when opioid habit and overdoses have been surging.

In a joint assertion, the drug wholesalers mentioned they’d decided that sufficient governments had signed onto the deal to maneuver ahead with a “complete settlement to settle the overwhelming majority of the opioid lawsuits.”

In all, 46 states and roughly ninety % of eligible native governments have signed onto the deal, in line with the companies’ evaluation.

In a separate assertion, Johnson & Johnson mentioned its contribution to the deal would “straight assist state and native efforts to make significant progress in addressing the opioid disaster.”

The deal settles hundreds of lawsuits

This settlement resolves hundreds of civil lawsuits filed towards the companies starting in 2014 by native and state governments in addition to Native American tribes nationwide.

“The settlement will present hundreds of communities throughout the US with as much as roughly $19.5 billion over 18 years,” the drug distributors mentioned of their assertion.

AmerisourceBergen pays $6.1 billion, Cardinal Well being $6 billion and McKesson $7.4 billion.

Broad outlines of the deal have been first unveiled in July 2021 however the corporations mentioned they would not settle for the settlement until sufficient governments agreed to signal on and drop their fits.

Preliminary funds will start in April and can proceed over the following twenty years.

A harmful second within the opioid disaster

The cash will arrive at a second when the opioid epidemic has escalated dangerously.

Many People with opioid use dysfunction have shifted from taking prescription ache drugs to road fentanyl, an artificial opioid that’s way more highly effective and deadly.

Drug overdoses now kill greater than 100,000 individuals within the U.S. yearly, in line with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

Joe Rice, with the agency Motley Rice, is among the lead attorneys suing the drug trade over its alleged position within the opioid disaster.

He helps this settlement and mentioned the funds will assist devastated communities “begin rebuilding…and cope with this epidemic.”

Rice mentioned the deal was structured in collaboration with native authorities officers to keep away from an issue that arose with the $246 billion tobacco settlement of the Nineteen Nineties.

A lot of that cash has been siphoned off for tasks unrelated to the general public well being impacts of tobacco habit.

Rice mentioned he believes that will not occur this time. “Going into the opioid litigation, that was acknowledged as being an enormous downside that we needed to repair,” he mentioned.

In response to Stein, corporations have additionally agreed to fund a brand new monitoring system to stop communities from once more being flooded with high-risk drugs.

“If there are too many drugs going right into a neighborhood, an alarm will go off, a purple flag can be issued, and distributors can be placed on discover,” Stein mentioned.

“It should insure that no extra communities are awash in opioids as occurred over the past couple of a long time.”

Lawsuits highlighted the actions of corporations throughout the disaster

Whereas corporations acknowledge no wrongdoing on this deal, opioid lawsuits laid naked firm practices that state attorneys basic say have been deeply troubling.

In some circumstances, drug wholesalers continued transport huge portions of drugs to small rural communities regardless of purple flags that medicine like Oxycontin have been being diverted and bought on the black market.

One electronic mail shared amongst executives at AmerisourceBergen — made public for the primary time throughout a state trial final yr in West Virginia — disparaged individuals hooked on opioids, describing them as “pillbillies” and referring to Oxycontin as “hillbilly heroin.”

With this $26 billion settlement now accepted, negotiations proceed over a separate opioid deal involving Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, and members of the Sackler household who personal the non-public agency.

That deal, if finalized, is anticipated to incorporate payouts topping $6 billion.

In the meantime, opioid-related lawsuits proceed in state and federal courts across the nation centered largely on pharmacy chains that bought massive portions of opioid drugs on to shoppers.