Utah’s Budget Picture Gets Rosier

Good news on Utah’s Capitol Hill Wednesday night.

The state has $101 million more to spend, save or otherwise allocate after new revenue estimates were released for the current fiscal year and for next fiscal year – the budget that lawmakers will adopt before they adjourn in mid-March.

Of course the GOP budget co-chairs, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, and Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, were singing the blues – saying Utah needs to put some money into the state’s Rainy Day Funds, has many obligations to pay – like student growth in public education – and no one yet knows what will happen with the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

But, hey, by just about any reasonable person’s judgment, Utah state government is in for some really good times. And a lot of money.

Some facts:

Utah went into the 2015 Legislature with $313 million in addition revenue estimates for the current fiscal year – money that is coming in over budget. That budget year ends June 30. These are called one-time monies – a surplus in your check account, if you will.

Utah had estimates of new revenue growth of $325 million – tax revenues that should come in above current budgets for fiscal 2015-2016, which starts July 1.

That adds up to $638 million dollars – more than half a billion dollars that legislators could spend, save or otherwise allocate to some fund or the other.

Folks, that ain’t pocket change.

Now, in mid-February – about halfway through the 2015 Legislature – economists in the governor’s office, the State Tax Commission and the Legislature’s Fiscal Analyst Office – determine new revenue estimates, both for the current budget year we are in, and for the new budget year starting in July.

Those are the numbers released Wednesday night that show over the two fiscal years there is an additional $101 million.


In ongoing money there should be $389 million total, in one-time surpluses there should be $350 million, for a new total of $739 million.

This is the most new money – one time or ongoing – that anyone can remember Utah State Government seeing.

Now – as Hillyard and Sanpei put on their sad faces – it is true much of this money is already called for, or needed for public and higher education student growth, increase demands on the state’s Social Services, pay raises for state employees, and on and on.

Yes, there are some concerns about which funds the money is flowing into. The new revenue updates actually show a fall in ongoing funds in the state’s General Fund – fueled by sales taxes.

And the state’s severance tax is also dropping because the price of oil is in the tank (no pun intended).

But as the late-great Gov. Scott M. Matheson, a Democrat who had more than one fiscal fight with the GOP-controlled Legislature, used to say: “All money is fungible.”

Meaning there are ways to move tax collections from one fund to another without the Utah State Government world crumbling.

So, Wednesday night’s revenue estimates will put more pressure on the GOP-frugal House and Senate caucuses to explain to Republican Gov. Gary Herbert why they can’t find the money to move $93 million in sales tax earmarks out of the Transportation Fund and give it to public education.

And how this or that program can’t get the monies it needs because there just isn’t enough cash to go around.

And, GOP lawmakers will also have to explain to citizens, why it is we need to raise (or at last catch-up) on the state’s gasoline tax.

The old budget two-step is about to start for real on Capitol Hill. Keep watching.