Lawmakers will need to fast-track a bill this week to help set next year’s budget

Lawmakers are anxious to get started setting the final budget for next fiscal year. But, they can’t get started until they figure out exactly how much money they’ll have to spend.

Lawmakers expect to get new revenue numbers next week, possibly on Tuesday. But, because of the tax package passed by Congress at the end of 2017, they don’t yet have an accurate picture of how much extra is coming their way. 

To that end, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, plans to fast-track HB316 on Wednesday morning. That bill will improve data sharing between the tax commission, the governor’s office, and the legislature, so they can get a better handle on how much more money will be available in the budget. He tells that he’ll lift the bill directly to the Senate floor for a vote. If 2/3 of Senators approve the proposal, and Gov. Herbert signs it, it will take effect immediately to help improve their revenue projections.

Stevenson says lawmakers have already submitted more than $300 million in spending requests this year, and there’s probably not going to be enough money to go around. 

“There’s been one heck of a rush of appropriation requests,” says Stevenson, who is the Senate chair for the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee. “Most of those requests are for non-existent money right now.”

Stevenson says one of the biggest pressures facing lawmakers as they work to set the budget for next year is how much they’ll end up spending for education. The public school population is expected to grow around 2% next year, which means nearly 8,000 more students will pour into the state’s already overtaxed public schools. On top of that, lawmakers are looking at increasing the WPU between 3 and 4-percent. Those two factors together will eat up hundreds of millions of dollars in the projected surplus this year. 

Other significant stressors on the budget process will include higher education and compensation for state employees.

“Those are the big rocks,” says Stevenson. “Once we move those into place, then we can start filling in with the little rocks.”