Utah’s budget surplus surges to more than half a billion dollars

GraphWhoa, momma! The Utah Legislature has $581 million more dollars in tax revenue to put into the state budget – or even return some to taxpayers in tax cuts.

The new revenue estimates made Wednesday when combined with previous tax collections projects made last December, show a continuing strong Utah economy and job growth.

Do you like budget numbers?

Well, here are some:

Lawmakers came into the session Jan. 22 with an estimated $292 million in ongoing tax revenue surpluses.

It was higher than that, but some money automatically went into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and other areas, by law.

They also had $12 million extra in one-time monies, taxes and fees surplus to previous and this year’s budget.

Legislative leaders then got colleagues to trim $35 million from so-called “base budgets” in ongoing funding programs.

And another $33 million cut from budgets in one-time appropriations that were not spent – like maybe an agency not spending money on equipment and such.

So – add that stuff up and you have – before Wednesday revenue update estimates:

  • $327 million more in ongoing tax revenue surpluses.
  • And $45 million in one-time surpluses.

Then you add in Wednesday’s updated revenue calculations:

  • $126 million MORE than previously believed in ongoing tax surpluses.
  • And $83 million MORE in one-time tax monies, which won’t be coming back again.

Add all that up with your old Radio Shack calculator and you got:

  • $581 million more OVERALL in tax revenue than lawmakers had last year.

Not even in the above numbers is an estimated $80 million that the state will take in through a tax windfall because of the GOP Congress’ tax reform passed then end of 2017.

How that $80 million will be dealt with is unknown, said Senate budget chairman Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

Some items still to be decided by Republicans (they are in the majority in the House and Senate) before a balanced budget is adopted toward the end of the session, March 8:

House Speaker Greg Hughes and other House leaders want a base-pay increase for Utah’s public education teachers of at least $1,000 – maybe even $2,000 per teacher, per year.

Some or all of that could come out of the $80 million state economists now guess will come from the federal tax reform to the state. That money is really state income taxpayers coughing up more via the federal reforms.

Thus the argument some of that $80 million should go back to state taxpayers through a slight reduction in the current 5 percent state personal income tax rate.

House budget chairman Brad Last, R-Hurricane, told his house that the last time such good tax revenue updates came it was 2008.

And you remember what happened then – the largest Great Recession in recent memory.

Utah lawmakers had to come back into several special sessions and in general sessions cut back on state spending, as state tax revenue tanked.

“Things are going very well now,” said Last. “But keep in mind it won’t last forever.”

“Now we can get down to the real work” of setting a budget and deciding tax cuts, said Stevenson.

“We are confident” the new revenue estimates, both ongoing taxes and one-time monies, Stevenson added.

Having more than half a billion dollars in new money is a lot of cash, however.

And anyway you cut it, there is going to be a lot more money going to public education – likely at least 3 percent more in the Weighted Pupil Unit, the state’s basic education funding formula.

Much of the WPU increase historically goes to school employee pay raises and student class size reductions.

And teachers could see pay a raise of $2,000, $3,000 or even more come next fall.