Gov. Gary Herbert is keeping his promise to make education his top priority with his latest budget proposal.
Herbert unveiled his budget recommendations for the upcoming state budget on Wednesday, which included sending an additional $300 million to the state's various education programs.
"From early intervention to career counseling, and from the high school classroom to post-secondary education, my budget includes a comprehensive set of strategies and funding recommendations that continue to move Utah forward," Herbert said in a statement outlining his proposal.
Herbert's plan calls for $96 million of the new education dollars to go toward funding the growth Utah's public education system is expected to see in the 2013-14 school year, estimates right now are that the state will see an increase of 13,254 students in the school system for the upcoming year. The budget also includes an increase to the formula that decides teacher salary in the state, by $26 million. Each school district sets the salaries for their teachers so it is up to the district to determine how much of an increase in pay the $26 million will mean for each teacher.
Herbert's budget reflects one of his main priorities -- that 66 percent of the workforce in the state has some sort of post-high school degree or certificate by the year 2020. Herbert has argued in the past that a well-educated workforce will bring businesses to the state and create more jobs. His budget calls for nearly $30 million to be invested in higher education institutions and applied technology campuses to increase the production of science, technology, engineering and math certificates.
"There is an essential and undeniable link between a highly educated workforce and a long-term, robust economic growth," Herbert said.
The budget also calls for an increase of 20 students in the University of Utah's medical school, at a cost of $6.5 million, and he calls for $52.4 million to go toward bonding for infrastructure needs at Utah State University, Dixie State University and Utah Valley University.
UVU would likely build a new classroom building with the bond. The Legislature approved funding for the design of the building a year ago, so the bond would be the next step in the process of building the needed classrooms and offices for teachers.
"I'm very encouraged by what the governor said. For us in higher education we aren't as concerned about the funding on whether it is cash or bonding," said Dave Buhler, Utah commissioner of higher education. "It makes sense for us to say let's go forward and build the classroom building."
Herbert's budget also calls for an increase of $28 million to the social services budget, a $90 million increase to the public safety and corrections budget and $21 million toward economic development initiatives.
Herbert's proposal serves only as a starting point in the negotiations between his office and the state Legislature. Utah's lawmakers are tasked with the responsibility of creating the final state budget, but Herbert holds the power to veto any budget he sees to be inadequate. Also, numbers used in Herbert's budget could change significantly depending on how Congress deals with the impending fiscal cliff.
Numbers released by Herbert in November, which were in agreement with the Legislature's projections, showed the state will enjoy an increase in its budget for next year of $300 million. That $300 million projection though could shrink away quickly depending on what happens with Congress and the so-called fiscal cliff.
State lawmakers have been informed by their staff that certain compromise plans to avoid the fiscal cliff could shrink Utah's revenue from $300 million to about $96 million, which would mean sharp cuts to anything currently being proposed by Herbert. If Congress fails to act at all and allows the country to go over the cliff, legislative fiscal analysts have predicted Utah's revenues would turn into a loss of $250 million for the upcoming budget.
Herbert said he expects Congress to make some compromised deal that prevents the fiscal cliff scenario from taking place.
"I have some cautious optimism ... they all recognize that the worst thing that could happen is that they do nothing. That is a tax increase on over 90 percent of Americans," Herbert said.
Congress has until the end of the year to decide how it will address the fiscal cliff. The Legislature traditionally waits until the February revenue projections come out before they craft the final state budgets. Utah's fiscal year for the upcoming budget begins on July 1.