State lawmakers don't have as much money as they hoped

2013-02-26T00:26:00Z 2013-03-14T06:49:33Z State lawmakers don't have as much money as they hopedBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 26, 2013 12:26 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY -- State leaders don't have as much money as they hoped to have, but it will be enough to cover growth in public education and some other priorities, just not enough to plug holes in local budgets if federal cuts happen later this week.

On Monday morning Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, the Senate's budget chairman, announced that lawmakers will have an additional $264 million to work with as they create the final state budget. He also noted the state will have $161 million in one-time revenue to bolster this year's budget.

"This money is going to go very quickly," he said.

Lawmakers anticipate that $100 million of the money is already spent as it will cover the cost of growth in public education and a $25 million accounting error made by the state Office of Education in last year's public education budget. The remaining money will be divided by the Legislature's executive appropriations committee.

Monday's numbers are down from the projections released at the end of 2012 that showed the state gaining $300 million. Hillyard explained those numbers were created using the Bush-era tax cuts, which were altered by Congress at the beginning of the year. They also were created assuming sequestration would not take place. With the tax policy changes and sequestration all but imminent Hillyard said the new projections are a more solid number around which to build a budget.

"I don't know if there has been a more difficult year of putting together numbers than we have had this year," he said.

Hillyard also explained that Utah will lose about $39 million when federal cuts begin on Friday with the sequestration. He noted that number has been slowly decreasing as the state has continued to monitor the negotiations going on in Washington.

He did clarify that cities and local school districts could see additional cuts because of Congress's decisions on how to control federal spending. He said those entities may see cuts in their programs because of the sequester but said the state is not in a position to help keep those programs funded.

"We do not have the money to plug in federal cuts on a state level or on a local level," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert said the federal government is having a chilling effect on Utah's economic recovery.

"Utah's fundamentals are strong, as evidenced by continued state economic growth," Herbert said in a statement. "Unemployment is down, wages are up and the local economy is growing, but nevertheless Washington, D.C., is having a chilling effect on our state's recovery. We would be seeing even greater growth were it not for the backdrop of federal uncertainty and a fragile national economic recovery. It's good news that the state economy is largely resilient, but we are not immune to national economic dynamics. Despite federal uncertainty, what is certain is my top budget priority -- education. That does not and will not change."

With the new budget numbers and 13 working days remaining in the session Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, declared that the Legislature can now build a budget.

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-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
Read more from Billy Hesterman here.

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