Will Herbert Have to Shift to Damage Control?

Tuesday was not a good day for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert in the 2015 Legislature.

House Republican leaders said his Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan would not pass the House.

And GOP leaders in the House and Senate told UtahPolicy that Herbert would not get the $500 million more he wants for public education.

But it was only one day.

And who knows what compromises can be reached as the Legislature rushes into its final two weeks.

Still, it must be admitted that both Healthy Utah and the $500 million more for public education are two of the biggest items Herbert wants from his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

And to not get either would be a real defeat for the governor.

Herbert addressed both issues in a Tuesday afternoon press briefing – both realizing there were challenges to his Healthy Utah and that Republicans budgeters were balking at his $500 million more for schools.

He said tax revenue estimates made last December showed $638 million more in one-time and ongoing tax revenues.

Now updated revenues show another $101 million in estimated cash surpluses.

He sees no reason why the $500 “target” can’t be reached in public education.

But House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, in his own press briefing (after the governor’s) said the House would not go to the $500 level.

UtahPolicy was told by other leadership sources that in a joint leadership meeting Tuesday morning there was no support to go to Herbert’s $500 million for education.

Likewise, GOP leaders will not take away the state sales tax earmark for the Transportation Fund – which Herbert also desires.

The governor wanted to remove that earmark – around $93 million – and use that money for public education, saying his transportation bosses tell him all scheduled road work next year can still be accomplished.

Now with the extra $101 million, there is even more reason to meet his half-billion-dollar public education shot in the arm, the governor said.

But Hughes said when all other demands are seen in the estimated $15-billion budget for next fiscal year – which starts July 1 – much of that large surplus falls away.

Herbert wants a 6.5 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit, the state’s basic formula for funding the 41 individual school districts.

Hughes said that 6.5 percent mark will not be met by the GOP lawmakers, although there will still be “significant” new monies for public education.

Healthy Utah is a tougher nut to crack for Herbert. But he said with the Senate passing the Healthy Utah bill Tuesday, he believes the House can come around “when full debate” takes place.

Herbert questioned whether GOP House leaders would put pressure on the GOP caucus to reject Healthy Utah – perhaps for political reasons.

And success on Healthy Utah in the House may depend on GOP rank-and-file bucking that leader opposition.

But, said the governor, it is clear to him that Utahns back Healthy Utah, and as citizens let their feelings be known he hopes that GOP House members will vote as their constituents want.