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Utah accountants urge state to prepare for economic crisis

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 8:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed plan for fiscal sustainability was announced at the Capitol on Tuesday by Financial Ready Utah, a nonprofit organization led by the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants.

"We've got a federal government that is pushing the can down the road, printing more money and talking about minting trillion-dollar platinum coins," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, during a news conference. "Nearly 40 percent of every dollar spent in Utah comes from the federal government that is borrowing and printing more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends."

Two years ago, Ivory sponsored legislation that required all state agencies to disclose total federal receipts, budget percentages and contingency plans on an agency-by-agency basis.

Ivory said the commission — comprised of legislators, city leaders, county officials, chamber of commerce groups and concerned residents — will now form a comprehensive plan of how to prepare and respond to any reduction in federal funds.

"We'll start sewing all the pieces together into a true financial readiness plan," he said.

Ivory proposes to accomplish that by deciding where to cut spending, increase revenue, or draw upon community assets to provide government services in non-traditional ways.

A number of bills will be proposed this session to begin this process.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, introduced SB70, which would establish the Federal Funds Commission.

The commission, Henderson said, would make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature on methods to avoiding or minimizing dependency on federal funding and assess the risks of reduction in such funding.

Henderson is also sponsoring SB158, which would increase the rainy-day cap for municipalities to deal with contingencies, allowing cities to set aside funds to have a buffer.

Rep. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, has drafted a resolution that calls upon local officials, state leaders and Utah's congressional delegation to "immediately and sustainably" address the deficit spending of our country.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, has proposed two bills that have passed the Senate and are now in the House.

The first, SB138, would require that the governor's office to consider federal funding when drafting a budget. The second, SJR7, would establish legislative procedures to account for the risk of reduction of federal funds in the budget plan.

Ivory will be proposing HB205, which would extend the contingency planning requirements of 2011's HB138 to political subdivisions.

His other bill, HB195, would raise rainy-day funding criteria among legislators to account for risk of reduction of federal funds.

"Forty cents of every dollar we spend in Utah comes from a government that's broke. That's not a good business plan," Ivory said. "We need to come up with business plan B and C."

Legislative action sprung from a grass-roots movement that started in West Jordan about a year ago, said Kent Thomas, CPA and president-elect of the Utah Association of CPAs.

Concerned residents and business leaders started talking about a campaign, intending to make the federal debt problem easy to understand.

"As citizens of the state of Utah, the first and most important thing we need to do is get our own personal houses in order, to make sure that our budgets are in line with our revenue," Thomas said.

He suggested keeping elected leaders informed and aware that residents are willing to step up and guide the effort to implement these programs.

"Our representatives need to know we will support them when they make difficult decisions," Thomas said. "These are not easy decisions, they are not fun decisions and they are going to effect us individually. They are going to affect our families, our businesses and us as individuals. Legislators need to know that they have our support, even if our favorite program is affected by some of these changes."

E-mail: rlowry@desnews.com

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