Lawmakers fear revenue projections may drop significantly. That could mean cutting back on some ambitious projects this year

Utah Capitol 25

Utah legislative leaders are worried Friday’s revenue projections will show a significant drop, meaning the state will have far less to spend this year than originally believed.Late in 

Late in 2018, consensus revenue projections predicted the state would have a $1.3 billion surplus. Lawmakers quickly used more than $300 million of that to pay cash for construction of the new state prison in Salt Lake City, dropping the potential surplus to somewhere in the neighborhood of $900 million before the 2019 session got underway.

December and January income tax collections also fell behind projections significantly. The actual money coming in was at least $300 less than what lawmakers were expecting, which is adding to the worry from lawmakers.

If Friday’s consensus revenue projections reflect those lagging numbers, that means lawmakers will have far less to spend this year than the cash bonanza many were expecting. That likely means some of the more ambitious spending requests will either be eliminated completely or scaled back significantly.

Legislative sources tell two areas that could be pared back are Gov. Gary Herbert’s $100 million proposal to improve Utah’s air quality and another $195 million price tag to increase school safety.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any spending on those proposals, but there’s probably no way lawmakers will be able to get close to those requested numbers. Any money they do end up spending will probably get some extra scrutiny from legislative budgeters.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at what we’re spending the money on and make sure we’re being wise with those funds,” said one legislative source. “We need to know what we’re buying.”

Sources indicate that legislators still want a significant boost in education funding this year. Before the revenue numbers took a downturn, lawmakers were eyeing an increase in the WPU, the basic unit of school funding, of up to 6% this year. That number may not be feasible now, but there are still hopes of a WPU increase of at least 4%, and maybe higher.

But, in order to get there, it may take some budgetary sleight-of-hand as there simply may not be enough money to reach that number without some help. That could mean shifting some spending around from other programs to help boost the WPU.

Legislative leaders say there’s not much appetite to construct new buildings this year. That’s good because they might not have enough money to pay for any new buildings after dropping more than $300 million in cash for the prison.