Sunday, October 5, 2014

Interview with Daniel Thatcher, Magna's District 12 State Senator.

State Senator Daniel Thatcher. Magna (Historic Pleasant Green) Main Street 2014. Photo by Robert Goble.

Robert Goble: Senator, I really appreciate your time, that you would take the time to talk to me. I'm very interested in the work you've been doing, and I've seen you at meetings, Town Council meetings, Community Council meetings. I've seen you at our parades, and I've had numerous chances to talk to you, and you've told me some very interesting things at different occasions about what's going up on the hill in Salt Lake. But just to introduce you to people who might not know you, you're the senator for District 12. So what is District 12 please explain district 12 for those who don't know what that is?

Senator Thatcher: Well, District 12 takes in parts of West Valley, Magna, Kearns, West Jordan, one precinct in Taylorsville, Copperton, the unincorporated west bench of Salt Lake County, Tooele, one precinct in Erda, Pine Canyon, and Lincoln out in Tooele County. So as you can see it's a very small, very compact, very homogenous area. (Smiles) That's a joke, by the way.

Robert Goble: (laughs)

Senator Thatcher: It's huge!

Robert Goble: It's massive! I'm mainly writing this for my fellow Magna (historical Pleasant Green) residents. I'm very interested in the work that you've been doing for us.

On Public Safety

Senator Thatcher: As a senator, I see my first and foremost obligation as protecting people. Now there are many ways I do this. The highest profile of these is that actually serve as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee for Executive Offices and Criminal Justice, which is the budget that oversees corrections, public safety, the Highway Patrol, the entire judicial branch, the executive branch--so the governor's office, the Attorney General's office, the auditor: all of these things I am responsible to figure out their funding. So that's probably the highest profile way in which I take care of public safety and protect people.
                From 1980 until 2010 the number of cars on Utah roads increased by almost three hundred percent. The number of troopers to keep those people safe didn't grow by a single trooper. We did not add one single trooper to the road in thirty years, while the number of cars tripled. So in the past four years, I'm very proud to say that there are thirty two more troopers on the road than there were when I took office. Our safety stats show that. The number of accidents are way down. The number of drunk driving incidents are way down. We have statistically the safest roads in the U.S.

4th of July in Magna (Historic Pleasant Green) 2009. Salt Lake County Sheriff before UPD. Photo by Robert Goble.

Robert Goble: I've talked to several people recently who don't know who their senator is. They say they don't vote and wave off the conversation.

Senator Thatcher: Many people don't know that they have legislators. I mean, they know, oh, well, the law says this and that but they don't really understand the process by which something becomes a law or by which a bad law is repealed. A lot of people don't understand that they have people who have specifically been maybe some of them vote; half of them statistically don't. You have a member of the House of Representatives and you have a member of the Senate that have been elected to represent you and your entire neighborhood and area in deciding what the rules are, what should be changed, what should be removed, and who's allowed to do what to you.
                Now I take my responsibility as a senator very seriously.  I think that my primary obligation is to protect people. Sometimes that means protecting people from the government. I don't represent the government, I represent the people. When the government steps out of bounds, there is nobody that can step them down. There is no one that can intercede. When Salt Lake County-- I'll tell you, half the reason that I ran for office in the first place was because of the response that I got from the person that had been representing us in the senate, when I asked him what he was going to do about the police fee that Salt Lake County dropped on Magna. Salt Lake County broke the law to do that. They violated tax law by calling a tax a fee. But here's the problem: even though it was blatantly obvious that they broke the law, there's only one entity with the authority to make them stop, and that's the state. Only the state can make the county stop when it's out of bounds. In this particular case we had a senator who felt..." know...whatever the county does, that's not my problem. I should let the county do whatever they like. I'm sorry. I couldn't stand for that.
                So the very first thing that I did when I decided that by golly somebody has to stick up for us, and if nobody is going to run, I guess it's going to be me. I made a commitment that I was going to walk every precinct. I knocked so many doors it was ridiculous. I wore out three pairs of shoes. Every single door that I knocked in Magna, in Kearns... they all said the same thing: This thing is so egregious. Can you please help us. Well, I gave my word that I would, and that was the very first thing I did when I got elected, was to pick that fight. And it got bloody, and it was brutal, and it was rough. And it took a year longer than I wanted it to take, but we won that fight. We passed a law that said 'you may not charge a fee for public safety purposes.'
                Public safety is non-negotiable. A fee is appropriate for something like a fishing license. If you don't want to pay a fee for a fishing license, if you don't want to pay to run hatcheries and stock streams and lakes in Utah, then by all means don't pay that fee, and don't get a fishing license, and don't use the benefit that you don't want to pay for.
                But how do you opt out of police protection?

Robert Goble: You can't. 

Senator Thatcher: You can't. It is a fundamental right as a human being to life and to liberty and to go about your business as long as you're not hurting others. If we don't have public safety, then you don't have those fundamental natural rights that all human beings are granted by their creator.

Robert Goble: Right.

Senator Thatcher: So if we're not taking care of that, then, frankly, what are we even doing? So that was the first fight that I picked.

On the Township Bill

Senator Thatcher: This past year, I'll tell you, one of the most insidious things I've ever seen was this township bill. It was sold by Salt Lake County as this great thing that will protect the boundaries of your township, and it will help increase the services... Well, I like to call it the 'Frankencity bill,' because their plan was to take all unincorporated areas, non-contiguous areas, to take areas that do not connect and have nothing in common and form a giant unconnected monster of a city. It would be a Frankenstein's monster patchwork with Magna and Kearns and the unincorporated west bench and Copperton and Millcreek and the Sandy Islands and the Canyons and make it one giant unconnected city--Wait! What? How is that a good deal for any of those areas? The other challenge is it would create a city, which means that the county would be able to start using all of the taxing authorities that cities have that counties don't. Counties aren't cities! There's a reason they don't have those. They have tools cities don't. Cities have tools counties don't, because they're supposed to be doing different jobs. So this bill almost got rammed through with almost no one understanding what the consequences of this bill would be.
                It took almost everything that I had to get that bill delayed. Now, it's going to come back. It's going to come up again next year. We can't just ring our hands and say, oh, no, what are we going to do? What we need to do is we need the people of the unincorporated parts of Salt Lake County to speak up.
                I will be fighting this again. But if Salt Lake County is showing up and claiming to have support from all of these councils... they claimed to have support from the Magna Town Council. They claimed to have support from the Kearns council. It's hard for me to imagine these councils would have said: Yes. Go ahead and plaster three new taxing authorities onto our citizens. Please lock down our boundaries so that we can never incorporate, we can never self-determine, we can never have our own planning and zoning commission. That's not okay.
                So that really took a lot of work. What I was able to do, I pointed out how complex and how potentially far-reaching the consequences, that we needed to study this for a year, so we're going to study it for a year.
                Salt Lake County is not going to give up. They know if Magna incorporates they'll lose their power and authority over you.
                Now, there needs to be, obviously, something. Because, if you want municipal services, you're going to have to pay for them, and this is not the way.

Photo by Robert Goble.

What Sets Thatcher Apart From Other Senators?

Senator Thatcher: There are twenty-nine senators and seventy-five members of the house of representatives. We have CPAs, we have developers, we have bankers... I'm the only guy up there that I am aware of that actually works in construction. I'm the only blue collar guy up there that works with his hands that I'm aware of. Frankly, I think that fits perfectly with our district. The other difference is my level of involvement. I am so active in every community out here. I have been to every single school in the entire senate district, and I believe I'm the only legislator that can say that.
                Because of my responsibility as the Chair of appropriations for Executive Offices and Criminal Justice, I feel personally responsible for going out and seeing first hand where the tax dollars that I appropriate are being spent. I go out with the Department of Public Safety and do checkpoints and see how they're administering them. I've gone with the State Bureau of Investigation and seen how they do undercover alcohol stings. I've been on countless ride-alongs with the Highway Patrol. I've been up in the search and rescue helicopter. I have driven the emergency vehicle operations track. I've sat in countless court room, watching to see how people are treated at every stage of the criminal justice process, from both the victims and the accused. I've seen the juvenal justice system in action. I've seen how parole is handled. I've gone with the Board of Parole officers to revoke some paroles, because I've wanted to see what happens. What are you guys going through when you go and revoke a parole? And I'll tell you, it's hard to watch. It's hard to watch somebody being picked up from their home because their house is filled with drugs and alcohol, especially when there are children present.
                It's difficult for me to go to a school and have the person who is responsible for tracking visitors in that school tell me, oh, I can't find the clipboard. Just go on in. Not okay.
                Today I started my day at a breakfast with a non-profit as they were explaining what they do and where they spend their money and why they would like more money to expand their program. I left that early so I could get to an elementary school in Tooele, and help hand out end of year awards to their students who had scored particularly well on their testing or who had won the events at track and field day last week. that was the high point of my day.

On Magna's Economic Development

Senator Thatcher: I went to the groundbreaking of Freeport West, which is going to be millions  of square feet of light industrial out here in West Valley, which should bring thousands, literally thousands of jobs. And because it's just on the other side of 7200 West, hopefully that will have a trickle effect into Magna as well.
                Frankly, I wish that Magna's (county's) Planning and Development... I wish that Magna had economic development that cared as much about Magna as West Valley City cares about West Valley City.   
                So let's talk for just a minute about Freeport West that is going in West Valley. It is just east of 7200 West, right on the frontage road, just off 201. It is close enough to Magna that you should be getting gas stations, you should be getting sandwich shops, but you'll notice that both of the gas stations that popped up specifically to support the Freeport West popped up on the east side of seventy two. 7-eleven and Maverick both across the street from each other on the West Valley side of the border. Why? Wouldn't it make more sense for one of them to be on the West side of that road for people coming in to have a right turn access? Why did they both build on the West Valley side? Why didn't one choose to build in Magna?

Robert Goble: My first assumption would be that they got a better tax break.

Senator Thatcher: I don't know that that's true. I will tell you this: when I spoke to the developers, when I spoke to the investors who chose to buy the land and chose to develop and chose to put this Freeport center together, the both told me "we wanted West Valley City because these guys have rolled out the red carpet. These guys have bent over backwards, West Valley City has been so good to work with, they have bent over backwards, they have helped us every step of the way."
                Why isn't Salt Lake County's Planning and Development being as business friendly as West Valley?

Robert Goble: I think that's the biggest complaint as I talk to business owners around Magna, the frustrations they have with the county. That's the first thing they bring up: frustrations with the county. They don't feel like that either their being treated fairly or that it's made easy for them. And so a lot of businesses either chose not to open up on Magna or they end up folding.

Senator Thatcher: Well, look: I was born and raised in West Valley City. I live in West Valley now. As a West Valley resident I don't think it is appropriate for me to tell Magna what to do. Now as your senator when Magna tells me what they want, it is my job to have their back and to go to bat for them and to fight for them. So I am not specifically encouraging Magna to go one direction or the other, but I don't think I step across any boundaries to say this: if Magna were to incorporate, if they had sufficient tax base to incorporate, if they had their own planning and zoning and didn't have to go to the county for permission to bring in business or to give out business licenses or to change zoning to allow for commercial or industrial development, I suspect that there would be a lot more jobs available in Magna, maybe close enough to bike to work. I think that there would be a much stronger tax base in Magna, which would allow either lower taxes or higher levels of municipal services. But to do this you have to have businesses. People have to be able to hang out a shingle and start hiring. If you've got planning and development run through a group of people who don't care about Magna and don't care whether or not you have business development, and, frankly, it seemed to not want you to have a sufficient tax base for you to incorporate....
                Am I making an assumption? The answer is, yes I am, and I would love to be wrong, but I don't think I am.

On Education

Robert Goble: Education is very important. A lot of folks in this area are employed by the Granite School District. We hear a constant shout that there isn't enough money for everything we want. What would you say to the assumption that the legislature isn't giving out enough money to education?

Senator Thatcher: Here's the challenge: I only know what we give to the State Office of Education to be appropriated by the State School Board. That's part of the challenge of education. Each year the legislature appropriates a certain amount of money, but that money goes to the State Office of Education, and they decide how much goes to each school district, and the school district decides what goes to each school.

Old Cyprus High before demolition 1983. Photo courtesy of Wanda Beck, taken by Lloyd Beck.
Robert Goble: So what determines how much money you give to the State Office of Education?

Senator Thatcher: Actually there are a couple of things. First and foremost, most people don't know this: every single penny that comes in from income tax goes to public education. It's in the Utah State Constitution. Every. Single. Penny. One hundred percent of all income tax goes to education and cannot, by constitutional law, go anywhere else. 

Robert Goble: I didn't know that.

Senator Thatcher: Yeah. Most people don't. Even people who are politically active do not understand. You hear all the time there's not enough money for education. Well...okay...sort of. That's kind of true. The challenge is much of our property tax goes to education. Did you know that?

Robert Goble: So we have income tax and property tax  going to education.

Senator Thatcher: And General Fund, which is sales tax. 

Robert Goble: Okay.

Senator Thatcher: So we actually give just over 50% of the entire state budget for the (Not including restricted funds. Restricted funds  are things, like for example, a fishing license. If you want to go fishing, you pay a certain amount of money, and it fluctuates based on cost of running the fish stock programs. So if I don't fish, I don't want to pay my tax money to run a hatchery, grow fish, and then drive them up and dump them in lakes for people to fish. But some people are willing to pay for that, and so that is an appropriate use of a fee.
                So what they do is calculate the cost of running the hatchery, stocking the ponds, things like that, and they calculate out how many people are going to get fishing licenses, and that's the cost of a fishing license. They don't make money off a license, because that is a fee, and you're not allowed to make money off a fee. A fee by statute is money to cover the cost of a service requested by the individual. So the money that goes to, say, paying for fishing licenses would not be included in part of that 50% because that's a restricted account.
                But if you're looking at the education fund and you're looking at the general fund, which are moneys that can be spent for education, 50% of the entire state budget goes to public education. Over 15% goes to higher education. So when you look at it that way, two-thirds of the entire state budget--did I say 50% ? It's actually 51.2. I'd have to look at the exact number. But when you add public and higher education together, it's two-thirds of the entire state budget. Now, does that sound like a state that is not committed to education?
                So we've got 18% that goes to Medicade, which we couldn't cut even if we wanted to. So if you're doing math at home with us, that's 67% plus 18% is 85%, leaving 15% of the state budget to cover every single thing that the state does besides Medicade and education. So what would you like to cut so that we can give more money to education? Because I'll tell you right now if I shut down the entire Department of Corrections (which for the record I'm not going to do), but if I did, if we let every single prisoner out, if we laid off every single corrections officer, if we shut down probation and parole, if we shut down juvenal detention, juvenal detention, juvenal probation, if we shut down the entire Highway Patrol, if we shut down the entire Department of Public safety, if we laid off all of those employees, if we shut down the courts so there was no way that we could adjudicate disputes, if we laid off every judge, if we laid off every public defender, we could increase the education budget by roughly two and a half percent. 

Robert Goble: Would it be correct to assume (I've heard this said by upper administration) the Granite School District has had to tighten its belt over the last few years because of the State Legislature? Or perhaps the State Legislature isn't giving out enough money to education.

Senator Thatcher: I would hate to have to speculate out loud. There are some things that it could be. It could be that they have fewer students. If the Granite School District has fewer students, whereas Alpine has more students, then of course, because of the weighted pupil unit, Alpine is going to get more money and Granite is going to get less money. So for me to come out and say that Granite's getting the same amount of money, the reality is I don't know. I don't know that they're getting the same amount of money. I know that in the past several years we have increased education funding every single year that I've served in the legislature. Every year there has been more money going to education than the year before. So if Granite is saying that they're getting less money, the only thing that I can think of that would validate that statement would be if Granite has fewer students.
                When I had this conversation with Superintendent Bates I asked him to get me that data. I told him that we had increased the amount of money going to education. If I recall correctly, I want to say that it was to the tune of 100 million dollars. He said, "well, we got more money than last year." I said, "well, show me that. You come back to me and you show me how much money you got last year and how many students, and how much money you got this year and how many students. And with that data, if it doesn't add up, I will personally go to the State Office of Education on your behalf and ask for an explanation."
                I never got that information. I never got that data. So if that is a legitimate claim, it certainly makes me curious why he would not get back to me and allow me to champion his cause if it is just. 

Robert Goble: What do you want the people to know about what you've done in favor of education in the state of Utah? What do you want the people of Magna to know about what you've done for education?

Senator Thatcher: Let me tell you. When you're dealing with education you have to walk a fine line, because the reality is: Who is in charge of education? It depends on who you ask. If you look at the Utah state constitution, the Utah state constitution requires the election of a State Board of Education who is tasked with quote: "general control and supervision over education." So we actually elect a state school board. The problem is what does "general control and supervision" mean?" because the legislature is tasked with statute and appropriations. So if we get to decide what's funded and what isn't, does that violate the constitutional requirement for general control and supervision? So that's one of the challenges.
                You've got the governor's office of education, you've got the state office of education, you've got the state school board, you've got the local school board, and you've got the legislature who all have a part to play in education. And part of the reason that we get in trouble is because everybody thinks that everybody else is stepping on their turf, but not doing their own job. I think the office of education is supposed to do X, Y and Z, but they're supposed to leave A, B, and C to the legislature. We'll they're mad because they think they're supposed to do A, B, X, and C, and they're mad at us for doing B because they think --that's a bad analogy, unless you have a John Madden whiteboard so you can boom! Go over here, which I don't have. The problem is, if I think you're supposed to be doing certain things, and you're not doing them, I'm mad at you because you're not doing what I think you're supposed to do, and I'm mad because you're doing things you think I'm supposed to do, and you're mad because you think you're supposed to be doing that, and you're mad at me for not doing the things I'm supposed to do. Because there's no clear chief, we have all chiefs and no Indians.
                When it comes to education, one of the most important things for me to do is tread lightly. So the first thing that I did in education that actually will make a real impact is requiring exposure in expenditures, which has never happened before in the history of our state.
                Here's why it's a big deal: We talked before about how I give money to the State Office of Education  from the legislature, they give it to school districts, school districts give it to schools, but we really don't know how much is going where. We don't know who's getting how much money, we don't know why, and we don't know how they're spending it, except in very broad strokes. I'm not okay with that. When you look at the administrative office of the courts, I can tell you how much money was spent for interpreters who speak Swahili. Actually, I can give you a case by case breakdown on how much money we spent on interpreters for each language or the entire program all together. This year it was roughly nine million dollars. I can actually get you specific detailed breakouts. I can tell you how much money we spent for ammunition for the training range for the Highway Patrol. I can tell you how much we spent per day if you really wanted that much detail. Because in every aspect where public funds are being used, we require  complete and total tracking, except with 51.2% of the state budget.
                With education in the past, the state office of education has said, we don't have to report to you our expenditures. I'm not okay with that, and I hope you aren't either. 

Robert Goble: I'm not okay with that. I want the legislature to know more about what's being spent in the school districts. 

Senator Thatcher: For the legislature it's important for us to know, but this is also available now to the general public. It's also now available to employees of the school district. So now an employee of the school district, if they choose to spend their personal time going and looking through their school's budget, for the first time ever we now require that that be public. So you can go through and say, wait a minute, you told me I couldn't have a projector for the music room and yet you spent X amount on--

Robert Goble: Ten thousand dollars on a brand new office for a principal when her office was just fine. 

Senator Thatcher: Here's the thing: at the end of the day we are not passing  judgment on how money is spent, we are asking for disclosure. I kind of feel the same way about myself. I have to account for everything that I do: every vote that I take, every position that I advocate for. There's a record of all of that. And it's all public. Go to, which, by the way, just won an award for the most transparent state legislature. All of that is public.
                So here's what I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to going through and looking, because we already know which schools have the best outcomes for kids. We know which schools have the highest graduation rates, we know which schools have the highest reading success. For the first time ever we're actually going to be able to look at those schools,  and how much do you want to bet that our top performing schools have similar spending patterns?
                Whether it's schools that invest more in computer labs do better, whether it's schools which spend more money on teacher development do better, whether schools with smaller class sizes do better...What if we find out that schools that spend more money on their sports teams are actually more successful because kids have more school spirit and, therefore, work harder in class--I don't think that's the case, but, you know what? What if it is? 

Robert Goble: (laughs) Football is big business in high schools. 

Senator Thatcher: Of course it is. Anyway, the point is, now that we finally know where the money is going, for the first time ever we'll be able to judge where the best use of each dollar is.

Magna Elementary before renovations, circa 1991. Photograph courtesy of Howard and Bonnie Stahle.

Transparency in Education Spending

Senator Thatcher: The most important thing that I have accomplished to date in education would have to be the transparency in education spending. Right now we do get sort of a general aggregate report of how money is spent, but it does not have the same level of detail that every other public expenditure carries. With every other agency I can tell you to the penny where all the money goes. I can tell you how much money is spent, when it was spent, who received the money, and what we got in exchange for that money. I can do that with every single agency in the entire state of Utah, except public education, which, as we previously discussed, is more than 50% of the entire state budget.
                So, let me tell you why that's exciting to me. For the first time ever, I'm going to be able to go back and look at our top performing schools, schools that have the highest graduation rates, schools that have the highest college readiness rates. For elementary schools, we can look at reading rates or test scores. So we go through and we look at all of our top performing schools, and then we compare how they spend their discretionary funds. Some schools will spend all of their Title One money, all of their Trust Lands money to get smaller class sizes. Are those the schools that are the most successful? Some schools do teacher development. Are they the most successful? Is it a combination of all of these things? Is it computer labs? Is it the ones that are doing innovative pilot programs the legislature keeps putting out there? Because if it's not, maybe we should stop doing those innovative pilot programs. But what if it is?
                This, for the first time, will allow us to ask the questions that we successfully ask in every other aspect in Utah life. And that is, is this the best use of that one dollar? In education, prior to my bill passing, the answer is, we don't know.
                Once that report hits, for the first time ever, we will be able to compare apples to apples, dollar to dollar. How did your school do with the limited resources that were allocated. This is the best part: we won't have to legislate changes, because principals are a competitive bunch. If a principal looks through and sees that all the successful schools are the ones that have multiple computer labs and that class sizes don't matter, I think they will voluntarily make those changes. If we find out that it is class sizes, I think you'll see a shift in paradigm in all those other schools that are not doing that at the moment.
                The reality is I can go through and I can show you study after study to show that each of these different options will increase your outcomes. But I can't compare dollar for dollar, apple for apple, where the biggest bang for the buck is, and after this report comes out we can. 

Safety Line for Vulnerable Students

Senator Thatcher: The single most important thing I will probably ever do with my life is the education safety line that I am working on right now in conjunction with Steve ------- The Utah Department of Health, the Attorney General's office, the State Office of Education and State School Board--this is one of the other things: if you're going to be working on education issues,  you really should be working with the school board. This has been a very collaborative effort. We have two members of the state school board. We are working right now on putting together a method by which students of any age will be able to contact the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, staffed 24/7 by licensed clinical social workers, and they will be able to get help anonymously for issues from bullying to suicide to sexual assault and substance abuse.  Right now, if a child goes to a councilor and mentions that their household has seen domestic violence, well, they are required by law to report that. 

Robert Goble: Then they call the D.C.F.S.

Senator Thatcher: D.C.F.S. shows up, and maybe they take those kids. What if the kid knows that? And because of that he's unwilling to talk about his problem? This would give him an anonymous place where he would know he could call and just talk through what is happening in his household, and it gives that council an opportunity to convince the kid, if you want things to get better, you really do have to tell an adult. If you want your dad to give help, you have to tell us where you live. The kids then can voluntarily give that information.
                They have a similar program in Colorado, where they are getting two thousand calls a month on this help line. Two thousand kids a month! Initially they set this up to be a tip line where you could call up and report other kids for being bad. You could call up and say Johnny said he's going to bring a gun to school, or Jill says she's going to kill herself. This amazing thing happened. They set it up so kids could tell on each other, and what they found is, kids were calling for help. Kids were calling and saying, I'm getting bullied at school and I'm thinking of killing myself and I don't know what to do.
                How remarkable is that!
                They put this tool out there, and kids started reaching out and getting help to the tune of two thousand kids a month. That fact that Utah doesn't have this: not okay. We have got to get it finished. We have got to get it right, and we have to get it active and implemented by next school year. So that is probably the most important thing I will ever do in my life, and that's coming up next year. 

Photo by Robert Goble.