Admittedly in a bit of a joking mode, House budget chairman Rep. Mel Brown, R-Kamas, answered that question before an open GOP Republican caucus Thursday:
How can the 61 House Republicans and 22 Senate Republicans really be so fiscally conservative when, in their budget subcommittees, have asked for $392.5 million in new spending when in reality the state will have only $264 million in new revenues next fiscal year?
Brown was only telling his caucus, which has 20 new members, what the old legislative hands already knew: No matter how much new money Utah’s growing economy will provide next year – there will always be more needs than cash.
Brown passed out a sobering two-page sheet to the caucus (see below) which details how much new ongoing tax revenues will be coming in next year compared to just a few of the “eye-popping” and “big-ticket items” needs and/or requests.
Then House budget vice-chairman Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, passed out another sheet showing that legislators have introduced bills with price tags (that would appropriate money) of around $100 million.
But, if they are lucky, lawmakers will have only $4 million to spend on new legislation, Wilson added.
It will ultimately up to the House and Senate GOP caucuses to prioritize new spending on state programs with the estimated revenue predicted.
And the Republicans will decide which “money” bills – bills that carry a cost – can be passed. (Minority Democrats may get a little cash along the way to divide up for their own bills, but not much.)
So, like in other general sessions, the majority Republicans will have to do some significant trimming of spending requests – both inside their budget subcommittees and in their “money” bill selections -- before they can get out of the general session March 14 with a balanced 2013-2014 budget, which will run around $13 billion.
Like other Legislatures, they will get there one way or another.
But don’t forget the programs that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert also wants – specifically another $20 million for his 66%-by-2020, an attempt to get two-thirds of Utahns with post-high school degrees or trade certificates by the year 2020.
Brown and several other House Republicans joked that it appears several lawmakers “are very enterprising” in trying to get some public and higher education additional spending under the so-called STEM initiative – an attempt to get more Utah children and young adults educated in math and science.
“We will ferret out the agencies asking for this” so-called STEM money, and make sure STEM isn’t overfunded next year, Brown said.
As is historically the case, there will be attempts at creative financing, especially revenue bonds sought by Utah colleges and universities and some manner of getting some cash to cities and counties.
Brown warned his caucus that the Utah Constitution specifically prohibits the state giving money directly to local governmental entities.
While nothing is decided yet, it appears from the tough numbers shown Thursday, that it will be difficult to give 1 percent pay raises to state workers and higher education employees.
It will cost $18 million to pick up higher ed employees 1 percent raises and added retirement and health insurance costs.
It will cost $23 million to pick up state workers 1 percent pay raise and their health insurance and retirement added costs, Brown explained.
The serious budget decisions now must come, many of them next week, along with consultations with Herbert.