Serving in the Legislature isn't just making tough decisions on abortion or taxes. It's also setting a budget - and answering the difficult questions of where to cut needy programs and worthy causes.
There's never enough money, of course. But this year Gov. Norm Bangerter suggests spending about $100 million in extra cash. The money is surplus and will be spent on a variety of programs - public education, colleges, construction, Medicare and social service programs. The list goes on and on.With 104 lawmakers serving on Capitol Hill, there are
at least that many suggestions on how to spend the money.
Bangerter has allocated all of the surplus from last year and this year, except for about $50 million in the so-called "rainy day fund." The fund will stay intact should anticipated tax revenues fall short next year.
Like every year, legislators who want special bills that require funding or new programs will have to find the cash either in Bangerter's 1992 recommended budget or in the $100 million.
Thursday the painful process began, with House and Senate members going over the governor's spending requests. One of the most basic questions is why spend the money at all, especially when the cash could be used to pay for buildings or water development projects now targeted with bonding?
"The philosophy of supplemental spending has been we reach out for it if it's on the table, available," said Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Provo, co-chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, which puts the final budget together in the waning days of the session.
The next question is what to cut from Bangerter's suggestions. "If we buy off on his (Bangerter's) supplemental list - the money's gone. And I don't feel we should just do that."
McAllister and House budget chairman Glen Brown, R-Coalville, have identified $50 million of the $100 million as "items we should discuss" for possible elimination.
But as McAllister and Brown read off lists of "discussion" items for elimination, one lawmaker after another cringed as spending in his or her area of interest was eliminated.Here's part of the list that faces the chopping block:
- $17 million for Salt Palace renovation and refurbishing of several other buildings. A separate bill funding the Salt Palace will be introduced, and that expenditure may come with independent action outside of the supplemental appropriation process.
- $6.8 million of the $16.8 million Bangerter wants to spend on the West Valley Highway.
- $3 million Bangerter wants for the uninsurables - those Utahns who can't qualify for health insurance. McAllister said more study is needed because what appears to be a $3 million program may end up to be a $15 million commitment.
- $1 million that would go to fund increased enrollment at state colleges and universities.
- $3 million that would go to increase state funding of public education. "The problem in Utah is we have too many kids," said Rep. James Yardley, R-Panguitch.
- $400,000 earmarked for arts organizations like the Utah Symphony, Ballet West and the Utah Opera Company to take the arts into public schools.
- $2 million in cost overruns at the Utah State Prison. Some senators feel the prison should find the savings in other areas.
- $1 million the State Tax Commission was to use for increased collections.
- $1 million asked for increased Medicaid funding.
Those are Bangerter's requests that could go unfunded. Lawmakers have their own supplemental requests Bangerter never included on his list, including $5 million to begin restoration of the Antelope Island Causeway and $1 million to begin a trust fund for higher education scholarships for American Indians.
"We're trying to find a mechanism to decide which items have a higher priority," said House Speaker H. Craig Moody, R-Sandy, as ballots were handed out. "If you don't want to go through the process, OK. But then you let the governor decide what is on the list."
Though most lawmakers disagreed with one another on which projects were most important, most agreed letting Bangerter decide was not an acceptable solution.
The real screaming will begin Friday afternoon after ballots are tabulated and a final priority list is presented to the various caucuses. "That's when the real bloodletting starts," said Rep. John Valentine, R-Orem.