Additional revenue has state leaders 'cautiously optimistic'
Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5
SALT LAKE CITY — There should be an additional $421 million for lawmakers to spend next session, including three times as much revenue growth as expected, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday.
The consensus revenue estimates agreed to by the governor and the Legislature project $121 million in one-time funds will be left over at the end of the current budget year that ends June 30, 2013.
Plus, there is $300 million in revenue growth anticipated in the budget year that begins July 1, 2013. Just last week, legislative leaders were warned there could be only $100 million in new revenues available for the budget that will be set by the 2013 Legislature.
Senate President-elect Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he didn't expect the estimate to end up as high as it did after being told to expect about one-third of the nearly $300 million needed just to keep up with growth and increased costs of existing programs.
"It was a surprise, and it gives us a lot of optimism. It will help us meet those very basic growth needs that we have," Niederhauser said. "It's still not a given until we have some more reassurance that those are the numbers."
Niederhauser said lawmakers will be cautious in putting the new budget together during the upcoming session that begins in January. That budget won't be finalized until the final revenue estimates are made in late February.
"There's still a lot of time to go. There's still a lot of unknowns and risks," he said, citing the looming "fiscal cliff" the nation faces if Washington doesn't agree on a package of tax and spending cuts by the start of the new year.
And even if the revenue estimates hold out, Niederhauser said, there will only be enough to cover the long list of expected increases in everything from school enrollment to employee health insurance premiums.
"There's not a lot left over," he said. "That's a message we need to make sure everybody understands. If you're thinking about a lot of new programs, that's probably not going to happen."
The governor said in a statement he was cautiously optimistic.
"While recent revenue growth is indeed good news and we remain better off than many states, we still have a lot of work to do," Herbert said. "I'm cautiously optimistic, but we must be very careful to invest every dollar in a way that stimulates the economy and furthers job growth."
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