When Gov. Norm Bangerter describes the budget he wants lawmakers to approve, he uses words like "tight" and warns he isn't even asking for enough money to keep up with inflation.
But in the back of the hefty budget book lawmakers will be poring over until they approve a final spending plan in the last hours of the 1991 session is a list of "supplemental appropriations" that total more than $121 million.That's the second-highest amount of surplus spending ever recommended. The most money the governor ever asked to spend on one-time projects was $143 million - last year.
Bangerter's supplemental appropriations budget would all but clean out the surplus funds continuing to accumulate in the state treasury because of higher than anticipated tax collections.
At the same time, the Legislature is also being told that some $80 million in bonds must be issued by the state this year to pay for building, road and water projects.
That's the most Bangerter has ever sought to borrow. During his administration, his bonding requests have ranged from $40 million to $60 million. Last year, he asked for $55 million in bonds.
While there hasn't been a lot of public discussion among lawmakers yet, legislative conservatives have always questioned the wisdom of borrowing when there is cash available.
Expected to fuel their concerns this year is the uncertainty over how well the state will weather the national recession worsened by the war in the Persian Gulf.
"Without question, the surplus should be used instead of bonding," said Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, co-chairman of the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee, the Legislature's budget committee.
"If I could persuade my colleagues, I would not bond. I would simply use the surplus for buildings and other needs," McAllister said. "I see bonding as almost a type of deficit spending."
The senator said the governor is asking lawmakers to "break with tradition" by using borrowed money to pay for highway and water projects. Typically, bonding is used to cover the cost of building new state facilities.
The governor's $80 million bond would include $55 million for new buildings; $20 million for highways construction; and $5 million for water development. The state currently owes about $260 million on outstanding bonds.
"It's a decision of priorities," McAllister said, suggesting that the highway and water projects should compete with other state needs in the regular budget process.
Of course, the governor's staff is ready to defend the budget.
"It's a very conservative approach," said Bud Scruggs, the governor's chief of staff, blaming the size of the bonding request on cutbacks in the federal government's share of public projects.
"The federal government is abandoning it's traditional role in both highway and water projects. So the state is going to have to replace the federal government as financier," Scruggs said.
He said the governor isn't sending mixed signals about the state's financial condition by talking about tight budgets, seeking to spend a large surplus and looking to issue a large bond, all at the same time.
"One of the reasons over half of the states in America are having to raise taxes and have massive cuts in programs is because they did the opposite of what we're doing this year," Scruggs said.
"It is much more responsible to direct one-time money toward one-time expenditures so not to create a budgeting situation that would virtually guarantee budget cuts in the future or extensive tax increases," he said.
Dale Hatch, state budget director, said Utah has one of the nation's most conservative bonding programs. If the state did not borrow any more money, its entire indebtedness would be paid off by 1996, Hatch said.
"We've been borrowing $50 million, but we've been paying almost that much back every year," he said. "The closer you can get to a pay-as-you-go plan, the more bang you get for your buck."