Budget gurus at the state Department of Transportation have a bewildered look on their faces this week.
Do they prepare one budget for next year? Or two? Or how about three.The state Office of Planning and Budget has requested the Department of Transportation to prepare a 1988-89 budget representing a 13 percent budget cut - the estimate by which the entire state budget would have to be cut if the tax initiatives pass.
But by law, the transportation fund will lose $40 million if the 5-cent gasoline tax increase is rolled back, which represents a 20 percent cut in the department's revenues.
"I'm not sure the Budget Office understands the Transportation Fund," said UDOT Director Gene Findlay, who said his office is now preparing a 1988-89 budget reflecting no cuts, one reflecting a 13 percent cut and another reflecting a 20 percent cut.
"It's impossible for us to cut our budget by only 13 percent," said Findlay. "It's a 20 percent cut."
Unless the state wants to start funding highway construction with sales tax revenue, Findlay added.
In fact, if UDOT cuts its budget by only 13 percent, general fund revenues would have to be funneled to UDOT to make up the difference between a 13 percent cut and the 20 percent loss of revenues the department would inevitably experience.
Historically, the Legislature has taken from the transportation funds to pay for other programs, like the Utah Highway Patrol, the Tax Commission, Department of Public Safety and the Travel Council.
No one can remember a time when the Legislature left the Transportation Fund intact and then supplemented it with non-gasoline tax revenues.
To absorb only a 13 percent budget cut, the Legislature would have to give back all money currently being siphoned off to other programs and then supplement the transportation budget by $9 million more of sales tax revenues.
"We would hope to make up the difference (between 13 percent and 20 percent) with general funds," said Laura Jo West, an analyst with the state Office of Budget and Planning. "We would hope to stop the transfers out and make up the difference so they don't take more than a 13 percent cut. At least that's what we're hoping for."
UDOT, however, is pessimistic the Legislature would ever consider using general funds to fund transportation.
"I don't know that general funds have ever been used to fund transportation before," said UDOT spokesman Kim Morris. "And I seriously doubt they will do it this time around."
Given what the Legislature has historically done to the Transportation Fund, UDOT "probably should be prepared to take the full $40 million cut," said West. "I think the UDOT concerns are justified."
By law, gasoline tax revenues fund transportation programs and highway construction and maintenance. One portion of the tax initiatives calls for a rollback of a 5-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase passed by the 1986 Legislature - something that would cut $10 million in highway funds to cities and towns and another $30 million from state transportation coffers.
Three initiatives will be on the Nov. 8 general ballot. One initiative, if passed, would roll back the 1987 tax increase, restoring the sales, income, gasoline and cigarette taxes to 1986 levels. The second would cap property taxes on residential property at 0.75 percent of fair market value, and other property at 1 percent of fair market value, and would limit growth in state and local governments. The third would give a state income tax credit to parents whose children attend private schools.