State revenue projections down from $300 million to $264 million, lawmakers told

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 11:15 a.m. MST

Sequestration could cost $6.2 million in public education funding, putting 90 jobs for teachers and teacher's aides at risk. In addition, Utah would lose about $5.6 million for 70 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities. Also, Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 400 children.

On the college level, 530 fewer low-income students would receive financial aid.

Lawmakers would have to find state dollars to fill those gaps, something they're not inclined to do.

"Those are federal programs funded by federal money, so that's the decision of the federal government to fund them or not fund them," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

Niederhauser said the need to divert state dollars to those programs would have to exceed the priority for state-funded programs.

"That is not a hole in our budget. That's a hole in the federal government's budget," said Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

Some of the federal cuts are out of the Legislature's hands because that money goes directly to school districts and local government.

"They're not really our programs," Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said.

Lockhart ruled out any possibility that lawmakers might use the additional $40 million in surplus funds expected at the end of budget year to restore the federal cuts because using one-time money to pay for ongoing programs creates a structural imbalance.

The speaker also said she didn't want to set the precedent "that everything the federal government does is good" and needs to be funded. The surplus funds, she said, would be better used to pay for new government buildings and boost the state's Rainy Day Fund.

Hillyard said the growth in ongoing revenues is already stretched thin, with at least $100 million already earmarked for growth in public education and to cover a $25 million miscalculation from last year.

"That's 40 percent of it basically gone right there without even really doing anything else. We're going to have a struggle as to how to put these pieces of the puzzle together," he said, adding that 80 percent of the decision will be easy, but the other 20 percent will be tough.

Lawmakers won't be able to fund a 2 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit plus pay for retirement and health insurance, Hillyard said.

"I don't know if there's been a more difficult year than this year in putting together the figures," the Senate budget chairman said.

Herbert said education remains his top budget priority, and the state office of education is still hoping that both enrollment growth and the 2 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit will be funded.

"It looks like there's enough money to do that if they choose," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said. "I'm generally optimistic. I think we're in good shape."

Contributing: Ben Wood

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, romboy@desnews.com

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