Lawmakers nix money for Hatch Center in budget bill

Utah Capitol 30

Legislators stripped a proposed $1.5 million expenditure to fund a center honoring former Sen. Orrin Hatch from Utah’s $19 billion budget on Thursday afternoon.

The proposed funding was meant to kickstart the proposed Orrin Hatch Center slated for the University of Utah campus. The money was left off of priority funding lists by appropriations committees earlier in the session, but lawmakers had put the money back in as part of their overall budget proposal earlier this week.

“We felt because of some concerns from our members that we should do something different with that funding,” said House budget chair Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane.

The money for the Hatch Center could reappear in the final appropriations bill, also known as the “bill of bills” when it’s released later on Thursday.

Also among the final budget actions was a $1.4 million appropriation to tear down the Road Home homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City when that facility closes and is replaced by three homeless resource centers scattered around the Salt Lake Valley. The state agreed to purchase the property for $4 million last year even though the parcel was valued at more than $7 million.

Another big-ticket item in the budget is $5 million for a research project at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The money for the research is partially coming from the budget of the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, or USTAR. Legislators began the process to wind down the state-run agency last year and are in the process of shifting that cash elsewhere.

“This has been an unusual budget year,” said Last, referring to the on-again, off-again budget negotiations that spun out of the late decision to shelve the tax reform proposal. After a couple of false starts, negotiators agreed to shift nearly $300 million from ongoing funding sources to one-time cash. That means if lawmakers have to take action on tax reform this year or the funding sources for those programs could potentially dry up.

Senate budget chair Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, joked that he’s happy with the final budget product.

“Don’t look too hard at what we put in here, but we finally have sausage,” he said.