House and Senate members were at odds Monday evening over how to handle the latest - and disappointing - revenue estimates for the next fiscal year.
All will be worked out, sooner or later, before lawmakers adjourn Feb. 27. It's just a question of how.Republicans dominate the House and Senate, but even they have different ideas on how to compensate for $15 million less than expected in next year's budget. House Republicans want to cut each state department's budget next year by 0.8 percent to make up the money, while senators want to believe the revenue projections aren't as bad as they appear.
During a two-hour caucus involving Republicans and Democrats, senators decided not to cut the budgets but instead to adopt healthier revenue estimates than were made in December.
That's not unheard of. In years past, the Legislature has adopted whatever revenue estimates they chose - either the governor's or their own fiscal analyst's.
The question of which estimates to adopt hasn't been a problem the past several years, during which the governor and fiscal analyst both guessed there'd be more money than previously believed. Everyone shouted with glee and spent the money quickly.
But things didn't turn out that way Monday. Legislative fiscal analyst Leo Memmott, the Legislature's budgeter, guessed that revenues will be down next fiscal year $12 million from his December estimate. And considering lawmakers want to spend another $3 million on the various "money" bills that require additional spending, that translates into a $15 million difference.
That's not much in a $3.5 billion budget, but senators balked at going back to the various budget subcommittees and trimming the money out.
In December, Memmott's projections were rosier, and legislators have been holding hearings the past four weeks based on those earlier estimates, which were $12 million higher. That's not to say state revenues will actually decrease. Unlike some states where revenues are actually falling, Utah government will have more than $80 million in growth in fiscal 1991-92 - it just will have $12 million less than estimated two months ago.
So while House Republicans want to trim, senators - going against the recommendation of their GOP leaders - want to spend at the original level. If the money isn't there, senators want to tap into the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund, which now sits at $53 million and growing.
"You cut these needed programs (by $15 million) when you have $53 million sitting in a savings account? I'd have a hard time going back and telling my people that," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.
But Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, wants to change senators' minds, and he's hoping to enlist Gov. Norm Bangerter in that cause. Christensen has invited Bangerter to discuss budget problems during a Republican caucus on Tuesday.
Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, the Senate budget chairman, warned, "If you invade the (Rainy Day) fund for this, then you will see it all go (be spent by money-hungry legislators). You will destroy this fund."
Rep. Irby Arrington, R-Salt Lake, doesn't want to spend $3 million on new bills and programs when existing programs need money. "There is nothing in those money bills that takes priority over caring for some aged person in a nursing home," he said.
Sen. Dix McMullin, R-South Jordan, wants to keep 1 percent of the 5 percent earmarked for state employee pay raises in reserve until the next fiscal year ends on June 30, 1992, and then pay it as a one-time bonus. If the state is short of money then, the 1 percent bonus would come from the Rainy Day Fund. If the state ended up with a surplus - and it has a $50 million surplus above and beyond the Rainy Day Fund this year - then it would come from that. The 1 percent pay raise equals about $14 million - the difference between earlier and new revenue estimates.
After the Senate caucus, House Republicans and Democrats met separately late Monday afternoon to discuss how to respond. House Majority Leader Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said the GOP would not budge.
"We're not going to play sleight-of-hands with the state's economic policy," Bishop said. "We pay the guy to come up with best-guess numbers. You can't ignore them just because you don't like them."
Bishop said the House GOP leaders have asked members of appropriations subcommittees to meet when they can to come up with reductions to present to the executive appropriations committee, which will begin meeting Tuesday.
"If they don't want to do it, we'll do it for them," said Bishop, a member of the executive appropriations committee himself.
House Democrats say there are other options., Among them:
- Increase bonding.
- Take only as much from the Rainy Day Fund as could be replaced with interest income.
- Eliminate sales tax exemptions and rebracket income tax tables.
The Democrats directed their leadership to develop a plan to respond to the budget estimates and submit the proposal during a Tuesday caucus.
Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said Democrats ought to respond to the Republican plan and negotiate points the minority party wants. "We have to remember we're only 31 votes," he said.
But other Democrats said the issue is so important that the minority party needs to establish its own position. "I don't think to wait and see what they come up with is going to be good enough," said Rep. David Jones, D-Salt Lake.
Gov. Norm Bangerter, who was scheduled to return from a Presidents' Day holiday in St. George late Monday, will not support the Senate's position, according to his chief of staff, Bud Scruggs.
"This is not an adjustment that is going to be a lot of fun," Scruggs said. "These are not circumstances that justify a raid on the Rainy Day Fund."
-Deseret News legislative writers Jerry Spangler, Lisa Riley Roche and Marjorie Cortez also contributed to this report.