State revenue projections expected Monday but federal budget stalemate looms large for Utah lawmakers

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24 2013 4:30 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — As the fourth week of Utah's 45-day legislative session drew to a close Friday, a member of a committee that prepares budget recommendations for people served by social services programs asked how many items on its priority list could conceivably be funded.

Sen. Allen Christensen, co-chairman of the Social Services Appropriation Subcommittee, in an apparent moment of frustration over the federal budget stalemate and the yet-to-be released state revenue projections, replied, "I can't even tell you that No. 1 is going to be funded. We don't know where our current financial situation is. We don't have the final numbers and very possibly we won't until after the session is over."

The North Ogden Republican added, "We're advised to have optimism but that's as close as I can come to predicting."

Consensus state revenue estimates are expected to released today. Senate Budget chairman Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, has said he is expecting a state surplus but building a financial plan for FY2014 is complicated by the possibility of $550 million in federal spending cuts to the state. So-called "sequestration" will trigger next month unless Congress resolves the federal budget standoff.

Even without a clear picture on revenue, the social services budget subcommittee continued to sift through its recommendations for program and agency funding, hoping its weeks of study and deliberations will be honored once the Executive Appropriation Committee prepares final budget recommendations, said Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland.

"How far they go down the list, it just depends how much money there is and the relative merit of other recommendations," said Menlove, House co-chairwoman of the committee.

Christensen said at least seven items on the ongoing funding list are mandated by the federal government, such as $19.4 million in state funds for Medicaid Affordable Care Act; $2.3 million for Children's Health Insurance Program expansion and $4.2 million to hire more employees to support the increased caseload from the mandatory changes in Medicaid under the ACA.

"These are federally mandated and unfortunately, we have little say about it," he said.

But others attempted to shift items on the committee's final lists of recommendations, with mixed success.

The committee voted against moving $70,000 for the Volunteers of America community detox center's expansion and remodel up the one-time funding list. Committee members argued the facility primarily serves Salt Lake County. In rural Utah, people detox in county jail cells.

"We do the best with what we have," Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, said

But the committee overwhelmingly supported making Meals on Wheels a higher priority. The program could be threatened under potential federal spending cuts.

"This is food. It's very frugal. Very often, these meals are delivered by volunteers who pay for their own gas. It's a very important program in all communities," Menlove said.

The subcommittee also approved language that says the Department of Technology Services absorb the costs of the Department of Health's $922,000 request for credit monitoring after the security breach of one of Utah's computer servers that housed Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program information

The security breach of one of Utah's computer servers that houses Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program information affected more than 181,600 people, officials said.

The intent of the language, Menlove said, was "The people make the mistake have to take care of the mistake."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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