Gov. Gary Herbert in recommending his 2013 budget said state workers, who haven’t seen a pay hike in more than three years, should get a 1 percent raise come July.
GOP legislative leaders said the same thing six weeks ago when the 2012 Legislature started.
But Thursday, House leaders told their Republican caucus that instead of a cost-of-living raise of 1 percent, it makes more sense to spend that money on paying for higher retirement costs.
So while workers may get step or career ladder raises in fiscal 2013, they won’t be getting 1 percent pay raises.
“Because they would have to pay taxes on these raises, it’s very possible that after the higher pension plan payments were taken out of their paychecks, (state employees) would actually see less money in their checks,” said House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace.
“They come out better financially this way,” he added.
Thus, the 58 House Republicans were told, it makes more sense to put the 1 percent directly into retirement benefits.
That was just one part of budget news that came out in an open GOP House caucus. Republicans ended their meeting by unanimously approving $465 million in new one-time and ongoing spending for next fiscal year.
(See accompanying spending details, a list passed out to House Republicans and Democrats in their Thursday caucuses.)
There are still some critical budget decisions to be made – hopefully by Friday night so the big budget bills can be put together over the weekend. The final $13 billion balanced spending plan must be passed before adjournment at midnight next Thursday.
House and Senate Republicans say it is not yet decided whether legislators will accept a new annual pay plan for the 104 part-time lawmakers.
House members like it. Some GOP senators don’t.
“We are still in negotiations with the Senate (Republicans) in a number of areas,” said House Majority Assistant Whip Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland.
House GOP leaders, with most of their caucus agreeing, want to start a pilot health insurance program aimed at helping autistic children 2-to-6.
GOP senators haven’t checked off on it yet, although House sponsors say they are hopeful their colleagues will come around before adjournment.
Here are some of the budget highlights approved in the GOP caucuses Thursday:
-- To the pleasant surprise of Utah legislators, big national banks will be contributing around $22 million in settlement monies coming because of the mortgage fiasco of the last several years.
In theory, the money is supposed to go to helping homeowners who were foreclosed upon by banks or have had other mortgage problems.
But leaders say it would be hard to target the monies so specifically.
Republicans are allocating $2 million for a special mortgage fraud prevention program. But the other $20 million is just going into the general budget.
Dee said some of those monies will be spent to aid the homeless and on programs on low-income housing – with the hope that some families who have lost their houses will get some benefit.
-- Just over $10 million will be given to a variety of worthy programs, which over the last four lean years got little or nothing from the state.
The Sundance Film Festival will get $500,000; the Shakespeare Festival will get another $500,000; the Sports Commission collars $1 million; a special constitutional defense council gets $500,000 to help pay costs in suing the federal government over a variety of state’s rights issues; and $250,000 goes for a new Freedom Memorial.
-- Public schools will actually get more money that even Herbert asked for. Instead of increasing the Weight Pupil Unit – the formula used in per-student funding – by 1 percent as the governor recommended, lawmakers will increase the WPU by 1.16 percent.
-- The state’s 41 school districts will get $40.1 million to pay for new students coming to schools and another $24.6 million in WPU extra spending.
Rep. Mel Brown, R-Kamas, the House’s budget chairman, said it’s important to remember that the Legislature doesn’t directly give pay raises to school teachers.
Rather, the Legislature provides more WPU money and individual school boards decide how that increase will be spent.
“Schools have other places where they can raise funds,” said Brown. So it is possible some teachers will get more than 1.16 percent raises next year, while some others will get less.
-- Six new Utah Highway Patrol troopers will be hired and equipped for $1 million.
The expenditure will mainly go into patrolling long stretches of rural state roads and freeways, where currently there is no UHP presence.
-- Several hundred thousand dollars will be put into the state crime lab. There is only one technician who does ballistic checks now, and if he quits Utah will have to outsource all gun-crime related work to other states, leaders said.
-- Lawmakers have to pay for several items they really don’t wish to, but must.
Utah lost a federal lawsuit over placing large white crosses on public land memorializing UHP troopers who lost their lives on that stretch of road. The attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs cost nearly $400,000.
“Let’s pay that in pennies,” shouted one unhappy GOP House member. But instead the state will cut the Utah lawyer a check.
-- Finally, the state will spend an extra $87 million for expanded costs of Medicaid, the federal/state program of health care for the poor.
03012012 Budget Detail
Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, told the caucus if the federal government doesn’t get that program under fiscal control, “The rest of you (legislators) won’t have to bother with (the state budget.)” Medicaid increases will eat up all the growth in new tax revenues each year.