Legislative leaders agree on spending list

Published: Friday, March 8 2013 8:24 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislative leaders agreed Friday on how to spend most the $264 million in new revenue growth forecast for the budget year that begins July 1, as well as more than $190 million in surplus funds.

The actions of the Executive Appropriations Committee followed days of closed-door negotiations by the majority GOP House and Senate leaders and help finalize the state's nearly $13 billion budget.

The 2013 Legislature has until midnight Thursday to finish next year's budget. In addition to the spending list approved in committee Friday, lawmakers will also consider whether to fund about $4 million for bills that carry price tags known as fiscal notes.

"We really did not have a lot of flexibility," Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said after the brief meeting.

Hillyard said the bulk of the money available went to education as well as largely federally mandated health and humans services programs.

House Budget Chairman Mel Brown, R-Coalville, said funding expectations this year far outpaced the amount of money available, a demand that made the always difficult budget process even harder.

"That's a bit of a feeding frenzy," Brown said. 

Lawmakers also saw their revenue projections for the coming budget year drop from last fall's $300 million estimate because of the impact of deals being made in Washington, D.C., to resolve the nation's financial shortfall.

The new revenue projections reflect the expected impacts of the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect March 1. However, the budget does not include money to cover the estimated loss of $40 million in federal funds.

There is, however, money for a long list of state needs endorsed by the majority Republicans in the House and Senate. Democratic leaders attempted unsuccessfully to amend the list in committee Friday.

All of the minority party's efforts were rejected, including an attempt to remove $300,000 set aside to hire a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to help fight to keep wolves out of Utah. GOP leaders have said that's an important issue to sportsmen and ranchers.

The list that was approved includes a 1 percent pay raise for most state employees, schoolteachers and higher education employees, as well as funds to cover the enrollment growth expected in public schools and the cost of fighting last summer's wildfires.

Gov. Gary Herbert's top priority, the "66 by 2020" initiative intended to improve higher education completion rates, was not fully funded, although colleges and universities were given more flexibility in spending some $18 million allocated toward the effort.

Some last-minute items funded Friday were more than $250,000 to increase the rate paid to foster parents, and $147,000 for a women's domestic violence shelter in Ogden that needs to expand to meet demands.

Also Friday, the House GOP caucus approved its priority list of fiscal bills it wants to see funded. At the top of the list is $16,000 for benefits for police officers and firefighters injured or killed during training.

The list also includes $250,000 to establish state suicide prevention coordinators and funding for everything from a pilot program for children's hearing aides to helping restore terminated parental rights.

Democrats also made the fiscal note list.

"Obviously, we're very happy these priorities made the list," House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said. Her "Dating Violence Protection Act," which allows people in dating relationships to seek protective orders, is the top minority party bill on the list.

That bill, HB50, carries a fiscal note of just over $150,000. Other Democratic bills on the list are HB165, which requires background checks for child care workers; and HB274, which would give employers a tax credit for hiring the homeless.

Contributing: Mary Mellor

E-mail: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dnewspolitics

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