The Box Elder County contingent in the Utah Legislature is ready to roll up its sleeves and dive into another legislative session, which begins on Monday, Jan. 28, and runs for 45 days as mandated by state law.
Scott Sandall, who is taking his new seat in the Senate after serving in the House, and Rep. Lee Perry have been in the legislature long enough to know what’s coming, but for the county’s third representative, it will be a new experience.
Joel Ferry, who is taking over Sandall’s House seat, is excited to get down to business.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings, getting caught up on issues we’re facing,” Ferry said on the phone last week while out feeding cows on the family ranch in Corinne.
Ferry said he ran on a promise that he would be open and available to listen to everyone he represents, and he intends to keep that promise.
“I want local leaders, mayors, school board members, the PTA, whover, to call me with any issues they might have,” he said. “I’ve tried to be open to how we can resolve those issues, how they interact with the state.”
Ferry, a nephew of former State Rep. Ben Ferry, said that open-door policy will serve him well as he steps into his new role.
While his first session will be a lot to take in, he said he’s ready to take on a host of issues that are close to his heart, as well as those that are priorities based on conversations with his constituents.
“Personally, I’m a big free market guy,” he said. “In my own business, I see government regulations that have impacts both for good and bad. I want to make sure government is not a hindrance, and that we make an even, level playing field.”
With the Utah economy humming along and the state having a surplus of nearly $1.3 billion, he said funding for education is a top priority for him and others.
Last year, the legislature passed a property tax equalization measure that was very beneficial to the Box Elder School District, and he would like to see continued efforts toward tax reform.
“That really helped Box Elder School District to be able to become more competitive with neighboring districts, so we could stop losing so many teachers to surrounding areas,” he said.
One area where he would like to see tax reform is with sales tax.
“Because of the way we’re buying goods and services, sales tax as a percentage of total revenue to the state is going down,” he said. “I’m a big believer in broad-based taxes, so people have skin in the game and participate. We’re looking at how we can spread out how we’re doing the sales tax and lower income tax rates.”
He said he would like to see an income tax cut of somewhere between $200 million and $300 million.
“We have a $1.3 billion surplus this year,” he said. “We should be able to give some of that back to the people of the state.”
Another issue with education has to do with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a wide-ranging change to the state’s criminal justice system that in part affects how law enforcement interacts with minors in the public school system.
“There have been some issues, with the way it’s been rolled out and implemented, that have made it hard to have it be successful in our county,” he said. “It’s working well in Salt Lake and the bigger counties, be we don’t have the resources they have.”
As a farmer and rancher, he said agricultural issues are near and dear to his heart, and he hopes to help that industry through his seat on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee.
“They’re in really difficult times right now, and the shutdown is not helping at all,” he said. “The USDA is considered nonessential, and it’s taking a large brunt of this shutdown.”
He said his heart goes out to everyone affected by the shutdown, but it shouldn’t hinder the way the legislature does its business because Utah is a very well-managed state.
“We’re in a very solid financial position,” he said. “If (the shutdown) persists for months and months, yes, it’s going to be a huge problem, but one thing I’m impressed with is our leadership. It’s very proactive. We actually lead.”
He’s still working on developing individual bills, but said one thing he’s excited to work on is the Golden Spike sesquicentennial.
“I’m running some things associated with that, trying to make sure we have a very successful experience with that celebration,” he said.
He will also use his experience as a farmer to try to streamline the processes around water rights.
“Adjudicating right now is taking 10 to 40 years to complete. It’s just too long,” he said. “The state engineer said he wanted to make it a multi-year process instead of a multi-decade process, and I’m running some things to help him do that.”
He’s also working with the state Division of Wildlife Resources to help create electronic hunting tags, which would help with law enforcement and collecting data from hunters.
“There are some little things like that that can really help a lot,” he said. “Mostly I’m just excited to get started.”