The 1991 Legislature is guilty of financial flimflammery in the first degree.
Manipulations of budgets to give the appearance of more money than there really is has government agencies scratching their heads and wondering how they'll come up with a 5 percent compensation package for their employees, when appropriations committees put enough money into budgets to finance just 4.5 percent.Public employees, including teachers, are justifiably angry at the smoke-and-mirrors budgeting that has characterized this session.
There's a lot of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing going on to try to salvage the situation, and by the time this column is in print, any number of adjustments may have been made.
If current proposals hold, however, the Legislature is putting school district administrators in an untenable position. They have created a guaranteed teacher backlash by not playing it straight.
The 5 percent compensation package guaranteed teachers at the beginning of the session has dwindled away bit by bit. The first item of bad news was that 1.8 percent of the total would go to cover actuarial glitches that left the teacher retirement account short.
Then came the mandate to cut $7.5 million from a local school block grant that has been used by districts primarily for salaries. That whacks another half percent from the total pie.
Add in the standard lane changes and increments teachers are entitled to based on service and training, and there isn't much left.
When I go to the grocery store with $4.50 in my pocket, I can't buy $5 worth of groceries. When school administrators sit down to negotiate teacher salaries this summer, they won't be able to come up with anything that remotely matches the 5 percent promise because they'll have only 4.5 percent in their purses and other bills to pay.
The real slap in the face is the Legislature's promise to sweeten the pay pot this summer if surpluses show up in actual revenues - something that has happened for each of the past four years.
School districts have to have their budgets prepared by June 30. Negotiations hinge on the figures that are in those budgets. Knowing that at the end of June (or, more likely, the first of September) they might, maybe, perhaps, have some more money, more or less, give or take a little, is poor consolation.
The 1991 flimflam is particularly troublesome because of the promises made in 1990. The goal then was to bring Utah's teachers up to a regional salary average in three years. This year's budget won't move education toward that objective.
I am a parent. I know I can't pass out more cookies when the cookie jar is empty. The Legislature can't give public employees any more money than it gathers in tax revenues. Teachers are pretty good at math, too.
My frustration, and I perceive the frustration of educators and other public employees, is not that revenue projections are down. No one has much control over that. The frustration is that the Legislature has been less than honest in how it has handled its responsibility and, further, that the body perpetuates a budget process that allows for the kind of fiasco now in process.
Teachers see the Legislature's refusal to even consider tapping the rainy-day fund, tighten tax loopholes or make other adjustments to increase education funding as a breach of faith, given the earlier promises. They'd probably feel better if they saw any tendency on the part of the Legislature to bend a bit to address their concerns.
I predict that unless there is some resolution to the problems by Wednesday midnight, the Legislature will find teachers, who have appeared quiescent throughout the session, back on the warpath. If I'm not covering a special session this spring or summer, called to try to iron out the mess, I'll be surprised.