Gov. Herbert released a bold, practical and future-oriented budget calling for strategic investments in public and higher education, a continuation of Utah’s prudent budget practices, tax relief for small businesses, expansion of the University of Utah medical school enrollment and other carefully thought out funding priorities. The Salt Lake Chamber, which represents 7,700 businesses statewide, supports the broad priorities of our state’s chief executive and encourages the Utah Legislature to build from Gov. Herbert’s well thought out and business-minded recommendations as they make appropriation decisions in the 2012 General Legislative Session.
Specific areas of enthusiastic business support include:
· No new taxes – Utah’s economy is second-best in the nation and has provided needed flexibility to meet state needs and invest in the future using existing revenue streams. With $408 million in new one-time and ongoing revenue, Utah can meet its current and future needs without a tax increase.
· Eliminate structural imbalance – Economic circumstances of the past few years have required the state to use a modest amount of one-time revenue for ongoing expenses. Thanks to Utah’s growing economy, Utah is now able to eliminate the structural imbalance. The governor has wisely chosen to do so.
· Prepare for a rainy day – Business leaders keenly recognize the economic challenges still facing our world, nation and state. The European debt crisis, political paralysis abroad and at home and continuing corrections from the financial and housing crisis mean that much uncertainty still exists. By maintaining a rainy day fund balance of $232.5 million, Gov. Herbert has positioned the state to weather future uncertainties and, once again, demonstrated Utah’s fiscal responsibility, sending an important signal about Utah’s credit worthiness.
· Strategic investment in education – The governor has recommended $3.2 billion for public and higher education and directed that funding to high priority areas that are supported by the business community through the Prosperity 2020 movement. We support the governor’s recommendations to fully fund public education enrollment growth, allocate $10 million for early intervention programs, expand online career counseling and fund computer adaptive testing tools. The governor has also made funding a portion of higher education enrollment growth and performance measures in higher education a priority.
· Medical student expansion – The governor has wisely recommended funding 20 additional slots for medical students at the University of Utah. A physician shortage has been a concern of business leaders. The governor is right to support this funding.
· Transportation funding – The governor supports $60 million for infrastructure maintenance -- both roads and buildings. This funding will enable the state to protect its investment by preserving and maintaining transportation infrastructure.
· Reduce unemployment insurance rate – Utah’s unemployment rate is headed in the right direction. At the same time, Utah businesses welcome tax relief as they work to hire and invest in the Utah economy. By recommending lower minimum and maximum caps for the state unemployment insurance rate, Gov. Herbert will reduce the tax liability by $26.4 million for 68,000 Utah businesses. This tax relief will stimulate additional private hiring and investment.
“Gov. Herbert has built his budget on his aspiring vision for Utah to lead the nation as the best performing economy and to be recognized as a premier global business destination,” said Salt Lake Chamber president and CEO Lane Beattie. “The governor’s 2013 budget recommendations place a priority on the right items to position Utah to achieve his vision.”
In the coming months, the Salt Lake Chamber looks forward to working with the governor and Legislature as the state makes final appropriation decisions that will strengthen our economy. High priority areas for additional progress as additional funding becomes available include funding $16 million for the expansion of the successful USTAR initiative, funding for infrastructure at Utah institutions of higher learning, additional investment in higher education (such as fully funding enrollment growth and funding of scholarships), and paying down Utah’s sizable debt.
Utah ends 2011 with a much-improved economic outlook. Gov. Herbert’s focus on the Utah economy has sustained us through challenging economic times. As the voice of business and Utah’s business leader, we thank the governor for his fiscal responsibility and willingness to invest in the Utah economy.