SALT LAKE CITY — Legislative fiscal analysts are projecting steep state revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but they say Utah is positioned well to meet the decline by tapping reserve funds, juggling cash flows and canceling planned spending increases.
Officials expect a $186 million to $599 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $592 million to $1.287 billion in fiscal 2021, said Andrea Wilko, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s Office.
The total state budget for fiscal 2020 is $18.5 billion.
Wilko told the Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee on May 13 that the state has access to about $3 billion in general and education “buffer” funds, compared to the projected revenue at risk over the two years of $2.1 billion.
“The bottom line is this is fairly good news,” she said. “We are in a pretty strong situation fiscally. We are well-prepared to weather this fiscal storm.”
Wilko and other legislative analysts talked about stress-test scenarios they have been running on future budgets, considering possible effects of the pandemic.
But to respond to the stresses, more than $1 billion previously planned as new spending in the current and next fiscal years may be canceled, affecting all areas of the state government, and existing base funds as well may have to be cut as much as 10%.
“This is not a fun time,” the committee chairman, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said.
The committee reviewed a list of planned fiscal year 2020 and 2021 new one-time and ongoing funding that could disappear if lawmakers stick to the budget cutting scenario discussed.
Those new sums over the two-year period would total more than $1 billion.
The committee also instructed its subcommittees to meet May 26-28 to sketch provisional plans to cut fiscal 2021 base state spending by 2%, 5% or 10% — all cuts deeper than the planned new spending already expected to be deleted.
“This is not going to be an easy process,” Stevenson said. “There may be some services we need to eliminate.”
He said, for instance, he would hate to cut Tax Commission or Workforce Services budgets, which he considers vital for pandemic recovery.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said she’s worried about deep social services cuts, and she chafed at the notion of across-the-board percentage cuts without refined decision-making.
Before the pandemic, lawmakers approved a host of budget expansions, but apparently all or most of them may be dead now.
Those sums include about $60 million for business, economic development and labor programs, such as $1 million each for an arts sustainability grants program and economic assistance grants, $3.385 million in Point of the Mountain State Land Authority funding and $8 million in rural small business grants.
Criminal justice and executive offices programs would take about a $65 million hit, including $11 million for a behavioral health transition facility, about $9.5 million in additional highway patrol trooper funding and $970,000 for payouts in factual innocence cases.
Also likely to be scratched are $5.2 million for a law enforcement and search and rescue helicopter and $5.2 million for jail and prison medical programs.
About $108 million in higher education expanded funding is in peril as well, including items such as $5 million in student financial aid and $29.5 million in performance funding.
Roughly $290 million in infrastructure and general government funding is at risk for the current and next budget years, including new buildings and public health response programs.
Natural resources, agriculture and environmental quality budgets would lose about $36 million.
Two of the biggest targets are public education and social services, which could lose $338 million and about $100 million, respectively.
Legislative Fiscal Analyst Jonathan Ball told legislators the state’s history of setting aside rainy day funds and lessons learned from recovering after the Great Recession of 2007-09 are paying dividends now.
“Hopefully, what is comforting in the bad news is that we have been contemplating this for a decade,” Ball said.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, asked analysts whether the budget stress testing contemplated any scenarios in which the coronavirus would surge again after the currently hoped-for economic recovery.
They have not so far, she was told.
The Legislature may meet in special session in June to finalize pandemic response budget actions, Ball said.