Quantcast

Utah budget blues: Final work begins on Tuesday

By Bob Bernick Jr. and Lisa Riley Roche

Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 13 2009 12:37 a.m. MST

If you are worrying about your state or public school job, mark down next Tuesday.

Utah's 104 legislators will get new tax revenue estimate updates then — and go to work in earnest on slashing state spending for the 2010 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

GOP leaders are not optimistic. Words like "terrified" and "dreading" come to the lips when leaders look to the new numbers.

"The only good news Tuesday will bring is that it shows our wisdom in being cautious to this point," said Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse. "I'll take that little bit of good news because the rest could be bleak."

House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said he expects the economic recession in Utah "to go on for some time."

After the Presidents Day holiday, lawmakers will caucus Tuesday at lunch to sort through revenue estimates and the impacts of the federal stimulus package on the state budget. Those caucuses could last all afternoon.

"We'll take a long look at all these new numbers," said House Budget Chairman Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley.

Thursday, lawmakers finished up work in their individual, combined House and Senate budget subcommittees, cutting 15 percent from the current fiscal year's spending plan. So far, none of the anticipated money from the $790 billion federal stimulus package is included in budgets. Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said there's too much that is still unknown about the stimulus package, including how tax cuts will affect state revenue estimates.

Killpack said the public needs to realize that there will be strings attached to the federal windfall. "It's important for people to understand this money is not going to be coming in one lump sum," he said. "It will come with certain stipulations targeted toward specific areas and we're going to have to get an understanding of what that is."

Both Hillyard and Killpack said there was no way GOP lawmakers were going to back away from their call for 15 percent cuts even with the promise of stimulus funds. "You have to talk out of both sides of your mouth to say we're expecting bad news on Tuesday but let's not cut as deep," Killpack said.

The 15 percent cutbacks were intended to be a worst-case scenario, but now GOP leaders worry that Tuesday's revenue updates may show tax collections dropping even more, so even more cuts may have to be made.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s proposed $10.6 billion budget calls for half that size of cuts — and that was also without any federal stimulus money. Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the federal stimulus package will be part of the negotiations with lawmakers over a final budget.

"We'll move forward," she said.

Already, some House and Senate moderates are talking about targeted tax increases. Putting the state sales tax back on unprepared food, raising the gasoline and/or tobacco taxes are options being considered. Legislators could also increase any number of state fees, like vehicle registrations.

As an example of just how much of a shortfall the state is facing, Hillyard passed out a sheet showing that it would take a 30 percent increase in the state's income tax rate to cover just student growth and the anticipated cuts in public and higher education. No one is actually suggesting that, of course.

"Obviously, there's not a real strong appetite to just run out and jack up taxes," Killpack said. "That's not to say it's a flat-out no at this point."

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; lisa@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS