Legislators unveil 2019 budget blueprint

Legislators took the wraps off their $16.7 billion budget on Monday. The 2019 spending blueprint is $600 million more than last year.

The budgets released on Monday show lawmakers plan to boost public education funding by nearly $200 million.

Lawmakers plan to pump $77 million into the WPU, which is the basic unit of school funding. That represents about a 2.5% increase in WPU. Lawmakers also have allocated another $46.5 million in funding increases for public education. Those two figures rolled together are close to a 4% increase in the WPU. There’s also $36 million to fund student growth next year.

The legislature could boost that funding number significantly depending on the outcome of negotiations with Our Schools Now. As UtahPolicy.com reported earlier, the group pushing a ballot initiative to give massive amounts of new funding to Utah’s public schools have offered to drop their initiative to raise sales and income taxes if lawmakers agree to freeze the property tax basic level, and put a $0.10 per gallon gas tax hike on the 2018 ballot. Those two items would bring in close to $300 million per year.

Legislators are still working to set aside some education cash in a non-rainy day fund that the state can tap in the case of an economic downturn. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, has repeatedly praised a similar move by lawmakers in 2008 when they set aside $100 million just before the recession hit.

Captial projects (buildings) are always a source of tension in the budget. UtahPolicy.com is told budget negotiations between the House and Senate reached a breaking point last week, mostly over which building projects to fund. In the end, it looks like lawmakers will put up $34 million for a new health building at the Davis Technical College and $33 million to fund a trades building at Mountainland Applied Technology College. They’ve also allocated $23 million to renovate the natural resources building at Utah State University. Legislators also set aside $8.5 million to repair winter sports facilities in anticipation of bidding to host a future Olympic Games.

Lawmakers also approved a $9 million increase to the higher education budget to fund student growth in the state’s colleges and Universities. That’s on top of another $8.9 million for tuition waivers and $9.2 million for that system’s workforce.

Still unknown is what lawmakers will do with tax reform. UtahPolicy.com reported last week that lawmakers are pushing toward a $20 million tax cut package that includes a slight reduction in personal and business income taxes.

Other line items in the budget:

  • Governor Gary Herbert is getting a raise next year. His pay jumps from $153,000 annually to $156,825. That also means other state employees should see a slight increase as well.
  • $19 million to pay for wildfire suppression efforts from last year.
  • Lawmakers are taking the statue of Philo Farnsworth out of the U.S. Capitol building, but don’t feel too bad for him. There’s $100,000 in the budget for a museum to honor the inventor of television.
  • Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, got $1 million to fund his proposed Jordan River Parkway project. $500,000 is one-time money, and $500,000 is ongoing.
  • There’s $500,000 in one-time money for the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs for a home down payment assistance program.
  • $2.8 million for housing state prisoners at county correctional facilities.
  • $1.4 million for “road, gutter and sidewalk improvements” around the new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County.
  • $250,000 for an air show at Hill Air Force Base.
  • $100,000 for the Center Point Legacy Theater
  • $100,000 in ongoing money for the Hale Center Theater
  • $2 million for a new science learning center at the Living Planet Aquarium.