Utah governor questions proposal to sue California over coal

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that he’s not convinced Utah should spend taxpayer money to sue California over its extra tax on coal and that the $2 million estimate for private attorneys to handle the case seems “exorbitant.”

The Republican governor also spoke about Medicaid expansion, school safety and a proposal to end the sales tax on food at his monthly news conference on KUED-TV.



Herbert said he’s not clear what motivated Republican Rep. Mike Noel to propose pushing the state to challenge a California rule that charges utilities an extra $15 per megawatt hour to buy power from Utah’s coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant.

The rule is designed to reduce climate-changing gases and encourage cleaner energy use. Noel says California’s policy is hurting coal miners in his rural district and violates the U.S. Constitution.

Herbert suggested the coal industry, not Utah, foot the bill for the legal challenge.

The $2 million estimate from the Snell and Wilmer law firm includes nearly $1 million for expert witnesses and $125,000 for travel and other expenses for attorneys and witnesses.

Lawyer Denise Dragoo says the complexity of the case would require paying three expert witnesses and two law firms, one of which helped North Dakota get Minnesota’s ban on out-of-state coal overturned.



The governor said he’s excited about a proposal from state Rep. Robert Spendlove to partially expand Medicaid and include a work requirement. The Trump administration’s embrace of work requirements for Medicaid coverage led Utah and other conservative states to reconsider plans to expand health care for the poor.

Utah declined to expand Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health law and have the U.S. government pick up most of the cost. Lawmakers, concerned about their share of the cost, instead passed a very limited Medicaid plan covering a sliver of the state’s poorest residents who are homeless or need mental health or substance abuse treatment, particularly those in the criminal justice system.

Herbert said he talked with Vice President Mike Pence and is confident about getting a waiver to implement a work requirement for people who are “able-bodied physically and mentally.”

“We will help them through skills, education and training to get a job,” Herbert said. “If you’re unemployed, to get a job. If you’re underemployed, to get a better job. And help you get off the government dole, the government system — to be self-sufficient.”

Spendlove’s legislation has yet to be introduced.



Herbert said he wants to ensure schools are practicing active shooter drills and following laws that call for controlled access to schools, which is supposed to result in visitor screening.

He said he’s asked his education adviser to work with superintendents and principals to assess how well schools are doing. He made the request after the school shooting in Florida last week.

The governor said everyone should take a hard look at what’s happening in society to lead people to want to kill.

“Is that part of our family upbringing or the breakdown of family, the lack of fathers in the home?” Herbert said. “We ought to be concerned about violence that we just seem to tolerate that comes out of Hollywood.”



Herbert doesn’t like a proposal that the Utah House passed this week to repeal the statewide sales tax on food and raise the rate slightly on other purchases.

He said he believes the tax base should be broadened, not reduced. The proposal would remove the 1.75 percent tax on food, excluding candy. Sales taxes on other items would increase from 4.7 percent to 4.92 percent.

“I don’t know that that really helps those who are impoverished,” Herbert said. “They have to buy hard goods, too.”

Republican Rep. Tim Quinn of Heber City, the measure’s sponsor, says taxing food is immoral. But Herbert said the state is better off helping people in need get food stamps and government assistance.

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