Utah Capitol 13

One of the side benefits to “scrubbing” various one-time cash accounts and putting that money into ongoing programs – the essence of the budget deal House and Senate Republicans made Tuesday in SB2 -- is time to review many of those “special” programs, and see if they are worthy of continuation.

This, of course, is a frightening thing for advocates of all these programs, that years ago got money from lawmakers, and/or have continuing special appropriations – or earmarks on tax revenue.

House Majority Leader Frances Gibson, R-Mapleton, told UtahPolicy.com Tuesday – as an almost aside while reporters were quizzing him and Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, about the SB2 budget deal -- that many of these cash funds could be examined in a systematic method as part of the special task force created in the study on how to deal with this “structural imbalance” between the General Fund and the Education Fund.

Just take a look at SB2, a 4,800 line long bill, and you will see hundreds of places where money is taken away from various accounts and then reallocated to other programs.

This is the $296 million essence of the budget deal, switching one-time money into ongoing programs.

But many of these one-time cash accounts are close to conservative Republicans’ hearts.

And they will certainly want that money replaced later as legislators and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert move in a fall special session to rebalance state taxes, adopt sales tax reform by broadening the base to include services and lower the state sales tax rate, and make other changes to how Utah government is funding and operated.

Or will they want to put all that money back into the one-time cash funds from which SB2 takes it?

Just one example gleaned from the bill: $9 million taken from the Employability to Careers Program Restricted Account.

Is this a worthy program? Probably so, but it may be examined by GOP leaders as part of the task force’s work.

Several years ago – with the strong backing of Wilson – the Legislature’s Fiscal Analyst Office began an aggressive program of looking at various state programs and attempting to analyze their effectiveness, seeing if the money spent is not only spent wisely but with good outcomes.

You can see the fiscal analysts’ work here.

The task force – and SB2’s reallocating of hundreds of millions of dollars – will be another opportunity, GOP legislative leaders say – to look at some tax earmarking, and some fairly large cash balance accounts, and their real worth to Utah taxpayers.