SALT LAKE CITY -- When midnight comes Thursday, the Utah Legislature will turn into a pumpkin and lawmakers' ability to create law and spend taxpayer money will come to an end for another year (unless they hold a special session, of course). That means they better hustle to get both done with one day left.
On Wednesday both bodies of the Legislature released lists that included additional items that they would like to fund before the session concludes. Each body was given $2 million to spend as they see fit but in the final days of the session lawmakers found they had a little extra cash and decided to spend a tad bit more.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the leftover money actually amounts to be about $3.5 million for each body to spend. Lawmakers have been left up to themselves to decide if they will fund programs that were left off their main budget because money ran out, or if they want to fund pet projects.
On the House list of items to be funded is appropriation for a number of events that lawmakers say will be an economic plus for the state. Included on the House list is $10,000 for the Antelope Island Balloon Festival, $100,000 for the Hill Air Force Base Air Show and $20,000 for funding for the Utah Symphony to preform at a summer festival in Taylorsville. Another $10,000 was set aside to fund a youth turkey show.
"Most if not all of those you can find an economic development reason to fund," House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said.
Dee stated the return in taxes generated from having those events is an enormous value to the state. He particularly noted the balloon festival as something that draws people from all over the United States to Davis County, resulting in a large number of out-of-state visitors paying Utah sales taxes while they are in the state.
In the Senate the Utah Summer Games is on tap to receive $25,000 of taxpayer money and the Utah Sports Commission, which organizes multiple sporting events throughout the state each year, could get as much as $150,000 on top of the $750,000 the Legislature already appropriated.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said some of the items on the list are a result of negotiations between lawmakers and not necessarily a result of a prioritized list created by the Legislature's multiple subcommittees that create the master budget. Lockhart stated each legislator has a responsibility to watch out for his or her district's needs and that is what is happening in this process.
While pet projects and special events are included in the list of additional items to fund, programs that aim to provide help or relief to people also are included. The Drug Offender Reform Act, which provides treatment to drug addicts, received $175,000 in the request, as did the Pingree Center for Autism, which received $150,000 for a new school bus. Nearly $150,000 was appropriated for veteran's affairs.
The request list was approved by the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee on Wednesday afternoon. The full Legislature will consider the final budget additions in the last hours of the session.