Legislative budget negotiators targeting school funding and state employee increases

The “big rocks” of the state budget are starting to come together.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who is the Senate chair of the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee, says they’re starting to move the big budget items in place.

Education funding once again stands to get a substantial boost in funding. Stevenson says they’re hoping to increase the WPU, which is the basic school funding measure, by close to 4%.

“That would be a good place to go,” he says. 

The 4% WPU increase would be similar to the increase lawmakers meted out last year. Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget proposal asked a boost in the WPU that had an effective rate of close to 5.6% after all of the ancillary funding was included. Stevenson says lawmakers may get close to that number, which would be approximately $200 million in new funding, plus money to fund school growth.

Stevenson says they’re still waiting for some final education funding numbers to fall in place. The ultimate amount hinges on the fate of the school funding bill, SB145, from Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan. If that legislation passes, it will set aside a significant amount of money to increase funding for poorer school districts so they would be equal to the wealthier areas.

Stevenson says budget negotiators are also likely to give state employees a cost of living increase in salaries this year. They also are planning to set aside a pool of money for targeted raises so they can attract and keep high-quality employees.

“We need to set aside that money to pay market rate for some workers,” said Stevenson. “We need to be able to attract and retain these employees in critical areas.”

Stevenson says lawmakers are planning to put back some of the money they pulled out of the Attorney General’s budget and the National Guard during the base budgeting process.

As always, the biggest hurdle to settling on a budget will be what buildings get funded, and which ones don’t. 

“That issue causes everybody to choose up sides,” he said. “We have to pick and choose projects, which can get tense.”