Thursday, the House and Senate Republicans (the House in an open caucus) passed out the preliminary decisions on spending new dollars for next fiscal year, and one-time monies for special spending.
One shocker I noticed: According to Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, there isn’t $2 million in the budget to defend the state’s lawsuit over what are called RS477 roads.
These are, according to Noel, 15,000 short and long dirt roads through Utah’s rural landscape, roads the counties say belong to them and which federal officials say are not really roads at all, but some kind of trails or creek beds, and aren’t necessarily open to public rights of way.
Noel says independent lawyers hired by various public entities need to be paid, and the effort needs $1 million in one time revenues and $1 million in ongoing tax revenue.
In a House GOP caucus Noel started to make his case, but House Budget Chair Mel Brown, R-Kamas, said: “We’ll talk later.”
The caucus was to inform the 61 House Republicans about the decisions of the Executive Appropriations Committee and the GOP House budget chairs after lengthy public hearings, not to debate the preliminary spending decisions.
Meanwhile, there are still some issues to be worked out, including GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s request for $20 million in tax revenue growth for his 66%-by-2020 program.
Herbert, along with some other pro-education groups, wants to have two-thirds of Utah adults with some kind of post high school degree or certificate by the year 2020.
It’s a laudable goal. But also a high bar which could siphon off considerable public and higher education funds over the next few years.
Unless Herbert runs again for office in 2016, and wins, he won’t be in office come 2020.
And some GOP legislators – a few who may be looking to run for governor themselves in 2016 – are asking behind the scenes if lawmakers should really fund Herbert’s proposal.
Or is there a better path to getting more Utahns post-high-school learning?
Ahhhh. . . the internal political workings of the Utah Legislature.
Of course, every general session there are more requests for new programs, or higher spending on current programs, than the funds available will allow.
This year is no different. Although legislators are glad to have $425 million more in new revenue growth and one-time tax surpluses to spend.
Utah is leading the nation in recovering from the Great Recession, and a growing economy brings in more tax dollars.
Some basic decisions apparently already made:
-- The Weighted Pupil Unit, the basic funding level the state provides the 41 school districts for per-student education, will go up by 2 percent.
The idea is that 1 percent will go to for new spending, like a teacher pay raises, while 1 percent will go into the teacher retirement plan.
-- State workers will get a 1 percent cost-of-living pay raise next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
-- New student growth will be fully funded at $68.5 million.
-- $19 million will be provided to pay for last summer’s terrible wild fires in Utah, including money to reseed the damage burn areas.
-- While the Senate earlier this week killed a bill that would set up a private/public partnership in early child development, $7.5 million will be allocated next year for early childhood intervention, including optional extended-day kindergarten.
-- The state’s STEM (early science and math training) will get $5 million more.
-- USTAR, the state’s higher education research/business development program, will get an additional $4 million.
-- A number of arts organizations will get more one-time cash, including $2 million for the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival.
-- Utah Valley University will get $54 million for various new buildings.
Lawmakers are still looking at special revenue and general obligation bonds to build more university buildings and for general government buildings.
The House will get $2 million to “spend” on legislation they want that will cost money, the Senate the same amount.
The various caucuses are now in the process of prioritizing those so-called “money” bills.