GOP lawmakers' budget priorities don't include governor's initiative
SALT LAKE CITY — Republican lawmakers signed off Thursday on a long list of their budget priorities, including pay raises for schoolteachers and state workers, new classrooms at Utah Valley University and fighting last summer's wildfires.
But the bright orange, three-page list circulated in both the House and Senate GOP caucuses did not include a significant portion of Gov. Gary Herbert's top budget priority, his "66 by 2020" initiative intended to increase the number of students completing a post-high school degree or certificate.
The governor's fellow Republicans, who hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, said they're still coming up with money to help the initiative even though it appears nowhere on their list.
"I wouldn't say that's not supported. I would say the money is in a different area. It's just not labeled '66 by 2020.' There's not a disagreement on that goal at all," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said. "Whether or not it has to be labeled, that is where we differ."
The biggest gap appears to be in higher education funding. Herbert sought $11 million to help colleges and universities boost completion rates and another $20 million targeted at science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as well as health programs.
The GOP list calls for $18 million in so-called "mission-based" funding and nothing for the specific programs. Lockhart said the Republican leaders decided that would have more impact on the initiative's goal of getting more graduates.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the governor's request "was kind of rolled into a couple of other programs. … What we ended up doing for education was still very good."
The governor's office said the budget isn't finished yet.
"Budget details are still being worked through, so nothing is final yet," Ally Isom, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said. "The governor remains focused on his top priority of education."
Before the list was made public, the governor told reporters he and lawmakers are "pretty similar with what we want to have for the outcomes."
Herbert said he expected the Legislature to find money for STEM programs, as well as salary increases for teachers, more technology in the classroom, buildings and other needs.
The GOP list does include $50 million for a 2 percent increase in the formula used to calculate public education funding, enough for local districts to cover increased retirement costs and give teachers the same 1 percent pay hike Republicans would give public employees.
There is no money for a pay increase at the state's colleges and universities, although there is $10.5 million set aside to pay for their increased retirement and health insurance costs.
The list, the subject of negotiations between House and Senate GOP leaders, also includes $68.5 million for the projected growth in public school enrollment next fall; more than $1 million to look at options for relocating the Utah State Prison; and even $35,000 to deal with prairie dogs in Garfield County.
Lawmakers already approved a base budget for the budget year that begins July 1 that basically continues programs at current levels. Now they are spending the $264 million in estimated new revenue and the $161 million expected to be left over on June 30.
Both Lockhart and Okerlund said there's still work being done on the budget.
"There will continue to be negotiations on some other items, and maybe that will affect some of the items we have of this projected budget," Okerlund said.
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