Hughes Bearing Down on Budget Work in Final Days of Legislative Session

Greg Hughes 03You haven’t seen much of Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes the past few days.

Where’s he been?

Napping in his office instead of conducting floor sessions?

Basking in Southern Utah sun?

“Budget, man, nothing but budget,” the seldom-seen Hughes told UtahPolicy on Monday afternoon.

A week ago new revenue estimates were drawn by economists from the legislative and executive branches of government.

And they showed $53 million less in the General Fund than predicted last December, and overall $10 million less to spend in the $14-billion 2016-2017 budget lawmakers must balance before adjournment March 10.

Not only do House GOP leaders have to work out different spending priorities among the 63-member House Republican caucus, but they also have to work out agreements with the GOP-controlled Senate, and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

That’s resulting in a lot of meetings, says Hughes, which take him off of the floor during morning and afternoon chamber sessions.

“We’re not really that close yet” on some critical decisions, said Hughes.

And according to legislative rules, the main budget (except for the final balancing Bill of Bills coming the last week) must be finished by Friday night – so the Legislative Fiscal Analyst can put the massive spending plan together over this coming weekend.

The $53 million less in General Fund revenues “is making it all the more difficult,” said Hughes – as monies must flow into higher education budgets from the personal and corporate income taxes to make up the sales tax shortfall.

Not only do GOP leaders have to balance out “critical” spending, like money for student growth and the regular Medicaid growth, but, “We have some priorities that require new money,” said Hughes, R-Draper.

There is the Medicaid expansion coming in House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan’s cut-down bill that will provide health insurance for only the 16,000 poorest and sickest among us.

There is continued spending for criminal justice reform.

And there’s at least $10 million for new homeless buildings/programs next year.

“I’ve been bringing those three groups together – health care, homeless and criminal justice – and telling them they will have to share some money next year.

“For example, all three want their own data collection upgrades – but we don’t have the money for three different programs. We have to share in some way for data work,” said the speaker.

Hughes says he’s even trying to use some federal TANF funds on those three new program spending items.

“We’re looking everywhere for some cash.”

There is $550 million in excess funds coming in one-time surpluses from the current year and new ongoing revenue for next year.

But when one looks at the different pots it’s coming in and where it can be spent, well, says Hughes, things aren’t working out as hoped.

“It’s going to be really tough to put this final budget together,” said Hughes, who may or may not be seen much conducting floor votes and debates as GOP leaders try to pound the square budget bill into the round hole of anticipated tax receipts for next fiscal year.