Lawmakers identify $67 million in possible budget cuts
Jordan Allred Deseret News,
SALT LAKE CITY — After a week of poring over state government agency budgets, lawmakers found a little more than $67 million that could be cut but will more likely be reallocated.
Much of the money identified in an Executive Appropriations Committee meeting Monday to approve the base budgets of government agencies is actually what's known as non-lapsing funds.
Those are the dollars that get carried over at the end of the budget year on June 30. In public education, for example, there are more than $40 million in non-lapsing funds.
And in the state Department of Corrections, some $20 million in non-lapsing funds have been accumulated over several years to go toward an expansion of the state prison at Gunnison expected to cost $36 million.
During the recent recession, the Legislature dipped into non-lapsing funds to lessen the severity of budget cuts. This year, lawmakers spent the first week of the session reviewing base budgets before tackling requests for new spending.
With an estimated $338 million in new revenues available in a budget expected to total $13.3 billion, the goal was not necessarily to cut budgets but to see if there might be better uses for some of the money.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the exercise was not intended as punishment and those agencies who managed to end the budget year with a surplus will likely hang on to the money.
"You've got to reward them," Hillyard said, by reinvesting the non-lapsing funds in other agency programs. "But we should make the money decisions, not the agencies."
Only a few budget subcommittees proposed real reductions in spending, such as more than $380,000 in the state Department of Human Resource Management from operating efficiencies, including reduced staff and IT costs.
"Without this review, we would not have made these cuts in the state budget," said Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, co-chairman of the subcommittee over the department.
But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, co-chairman of the subcommittee over public education, said it would be more appropriate to conduct the budget review between legislative sessions, "when we have time to delve more deeply."
Stephenson's subcommittee is expected to continue to look at reallocating the non-lapsing balances in the public education budget. Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote Tuesday on base budgets.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said earlier Monday that "potentially" the money identified could be used to help cover the cost of her new education initiative to bring more technology into the classroom.
"Everything has to be on the table," the speaker said, and if "there are programs or areas of the government that have been funded that aren't effective, that aren't working, that's the job of the Legislature to move those monies."
Lockhart continued to decline to answer questions about the specifics of the initiative, including the price tag, saying details were still being worked out. She has said only that it will cost less than $300 million.
Lockhart said she has had no conversations about specific funding sources, including shifting a portion of the growth in sales tax revenues that was earmarked two years ago for transportation projects.
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