Hits & Misses | Western Greehouse Gases, Legislature Cuts Medicaid & SLC Loan Sharks 

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Off Gassing
Not satisfied to wait for federal action on global warming, seven states, including Utah, have joined with four Canadian provinces on a plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions in the West. The recently unveiled blueprint is a “cap-and-trade” system that sets limits on emissions and lets polluters buy and sell the right to pollute. The Western Climate Initiative will first tackle emissions from power plants and industry. Transportation fuels will be regulated later. The climate change plan, which aims to reduce emissions to 2005 levels over a decade, might not be the best plan out there, but at least it’s something. As California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently, no one could do worse on global warming that the current administration in Washington, D.C.

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Poor Cut
The Legislature’s list of budget cuts proposed to make up for a $350 million budget shortfall read like a tally of services for the poor, disabled, old and sick. Negotiations during the recent budget-cutting session saved some proposed cuts in mental health, substance-abuse treatment and health care for pregnant women. But Medicaid still took a huge swipe. In slicing $16 million from Medicaid, Utah lawmakers also gave up millions in federal matching funds, likely eliminating vision, hearing and physical therapy services for 19,000 residents. This at a time when an economic slowdown means increasing numbers will need such services. A more realistic move came from Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who shifted funds destined for regional theater to an emergency food network.

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Paycheck Protection
Salt Lake City has taken a first step in protecting the working poor from the loan sharks with a proposal to limit payday lending operations. The plan, recently forwarded to the City Council by the planning commission, would limit to one every half-mile businesses that offer small loans at 500 percent average interest rates. Salt Lake City is late to the game, following nine other Salt Lake County cities, and the county itself, in placing limits on abusive lenders. Hopefully, the cities’ moves will get the state Legislature in on the act with a law to cap interest rates. This summer, a coalition of consumer groups chastised Utah for an anything-goes loan industry that pushes some into poverty and drags down the economy for everyone.

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Ted McDonough

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