Gov. Herbert threatens veto of House speaker's education initiative if price tag not slashed

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 5:00 p.m. MST

Also competing for a share of the money is the speaker's own Medicaid expansion alternative proposal that would use $35 million in state funds to provide health care to a limited number of needy Utahns through existing programs.

That money may be off the table in the budget negotiations with the Senate. House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, confirmed the House GOP caucus took a position on Medicaid expansion Thursday, but he declined to detail it.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said if lawmakers scaled back Lockhart's education plan, there would be money to fund it without diverting school equalization funds or raising the gas tax.

The Senate approved a bill this week initially proposed to equalize funding among the state's school districts, but would now divert $26 million to the initiative. The House has not taken action on the bill, described by Lockhart as a property tax increase.

Niederhauser said there is "zero support" in the Senate for taking the money from transportation funds, as Lockhart wants to do. The speaker has not identified a source, but a 3-cent increase in the state's 24-cent gas tax was discussed Thursday.

"We wouldn't have to address any of these, but we have this new education initiative now that's come into the budget, and there's not enough money in the revenue growth to fund that and everything else," Niederhauser said.

The Senate president said, "There's enough money to give a reasonable amount to this initiative and we could all go home."

Some House members have suggested the Senate bills are a tactic to get the House to agree to a tax increase.

"I'm just not smart enough to do that kind of planning," Hillyard said. "I think the issue really is they want to take money out of the transportation fund. We want to downsize the amount of money they want to put into technology."

Hillyard said the Senate supports the idea of Lockhart's initiative but that it should be funded incrementally, starting with teacher training and equipping schools with computer networks — something the $26 million could cover.

Taking a giant step without a way to pay for it has been a disaster in other states, he said.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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