Lawmakers targeting June 18, 19 for special session

Utah Capitol 04

Utah lawmakers will meet next week on Thursday and possibly Friday in a special session to adjust next fiscal year’s budget to deal with the impact from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple legislative sources confirmed to that the legislature is targeting the 18th and 19th for a budget special session. 

Instead of being fully online, is told a plan is under consideration to allow lawmakers to either attend virtually or in-person. Legislators will choose how they want to participate.

Lawmakers met online in April for a pair of special sessions to allocate federal aid money for the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and to enact some policy changes in response to the virus outbreak. That decision has not been finalized yet, according to sources. 

Allowing lawmakers to attend in person could be seen as a risky move as the number of coronavirus cases in Utah are rising. In the past week, the state has seen a daily average increase in cases of more than 300. That increase comes after most of Utah moved from a “moderate” orange risk level to the lower “yellow” status in mid-may. 

State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, contracted the novel coronavirus shortly after the 2020 session ended in March, but recovered. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, announced last week he had tested positive for antibodies related to COVID-19.

Legislators will get new revenue estimates the day before on June 17th during a meeting of the Executive Appropriations Committee, the Legislature’s top budgeting committee. It’s not known how those new numbers will shake out, but they’re sure to be a far cry from the more than $900 million in excess revenue lawmakers used to set this year’s budget. 

Legislative budgeting committees have been pouring over the budget they passed just a few months ago, coming up with scenarios to cut 2, 5 and 10 percent from their budgets to compensate for the economic downturn from the coronavirus. They’ve already adjusted the overall budget once because of the shift in the tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15. That accounted for more than $800 million in expected revenue moving from this year to the next.

While many of the state’s budgets may undergo cuts, lawmakers are working to minimize the impact on public education. One lawmaker told in May that, with a little luck, the public education budget will not see cuts. There just won’t be any new money for public schools. 

Lawmakers did fold $50 million to pay for the expected growth in public education enrollment into public education’s “base budget” this year, so it’s unlikely they’ll have to touch that funding when adjusting budgets.

It’s unclear if Gov. Gary Herbert will call the special session or if lawmakers will bring themselves into session next week. If lawmakers issue their own call for a special session, they decide what issues they can deal with. If Gov. Herbert makes the call, lawmakers can only consider what the governor includes on the call.