Proposed Constitutional Amendment Would Limit Federal Funds Utah Could Receive

Conservative legislators have been complaining for several years about how much federal money comes into the state’s $14 billion annual budget.

Legislators even set up a Federal Funds Commission to study the matter.

Now comes Rep. Robert Spendlove’s HJR17, a proposed state constitutional amendment that, if passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by voters, would stop the state from accepting federal funds that topped 40 percent of state annual spending.

Despite what a recent State Auditor report says (Gov. Gary Herbert strongly disagreed with the audit’s conclusions), Spendlove says Utah’s budget now contains around 25 percent federal funds.

“At our high water mark – during the recent Great Recession – federal monies made up about 30 percent of our budget,” Spendlove, R-Sandy, told UtahPolicy on Wednesday.

Thus, said Spendlove, putting a 40 percent federal money limit in the state Constitution still gives plenty of leeway.

And, should HJR17 be ultimately be adopted, future Legislatures would know what the limit is, and budget according should federal monies as a percent of the overall budget start climbing – and the 40 percent limit got near.

Last year, Spendlove got passed a resolution asking Congress to pass a law that said should a state, like Utah, refuse to take some federal funds, then that state’s residents’ federal income taxes equal to the monies refused would automatically come to the state.

So the state wouldn’t lose any federal monies.

But, Spendlove agrees, there really is little chance that Congress would pass such a bill.

So HJR17, in absence of such federal revenue sharing with the frugal state, would limit the state in just taking more and more federal money.

All this is aimed, of course, in stopping federal control of state spending via “all the strings attached to federal programs and their spending.”

“There are long-term concerns” that Utah and other states keep taking federal funds, and then can’t control how those monies are spent, since federal law tells you how they must be spent.

Yes, Utah could not take the federal money in the first place. But that is hard to do – why turn down a federally-funded program that helps school children, or the poor, or the ill and so on.

“Washington, D.C., is dictating more and more what our state policies should be,” said Spendlove (who, in cases of fiscal policy, has an unfortunate last name).

One answer, ultimately, is put a constitution limit on the percent of state budget that can come from federal funds.

That way money-thirsty legislators will be limited at some point should federal funds to the state just continue to grow and grow, he said.

HJR17 has no exceptions. The 40 percent limit is firm. Thus, if adopted by citizens, future legislators or governors wouldn’t be able to exceed that 40 percent level, period.