The economic wheel has turned for Utah state government. It has money to spend.
Remember just a few years ago? Budget cuts inmidyear, even a 4 percent surcharge on your state income taxes to keep the lights on in the Capitol.
Gov. Norm Bangerter says there will be $84 million in additional revenues in fiscal 1990 and a $14.5 million surplus this current year.
The Legislature's chief budget officer, Fiscal Analyst Leo Memmott, says it will be better than that. Memmott estimates an additional $14.5 million this year, for a total of $29 million.
And he believes there will be at least $106 million in additional revenues next year - $22 million more than Bangerter estimates.
"There's no question things are looking better," said State Budget Director Dale Hatch in an interview Wednesday. "The economy's improving."
Memmott and Hatch will update their fiscal 1990 estimates in mid-February, just before the Legislature ends, and both guess the tax picture will be better then than now believed.
Besides the $29 million in surplus this year and the $106 million additional for next year, there are some pots of extra money floating around. Lawmakers will look with hungry eyes on that one-time cash, either to return to taxpayers or pay for pet projects.
Hatch said the state will receive $25 million from the recent settlement of a mineral lease dispute. Two-thirds of that money, however, is earmarked for the Community Impact Fund and higher education.
He said the state has about $7 million more in miscellaneous surpluses made up of leftover money from construction funds and other items.
Added to this is a healthy, $24 million rainy-day fund. It turns out the state had enough extra money to pay its $29 million up-front share of a settlement with depositors of five failed thrift and loans without touching the emergency fund.
All this is not to say that Utah government is rich. It isn't. Public education, higher education and Social Service administrators could spend the $100 million in new income on needed programs faster than lawmakers could write the checks.
"No one (state department) got what they requested," said Bangerter. "My 1990 budget is lean, but does meet the needs of government."
And the governor wants to reduce tax rates by $19 million next year to return to taxpayers some of the extra money.
Still, with more than $100 million next year, almost $30 million this year and pots of one-time cash in state coffers, in the upcoming session lawmakers will be thinking more in terms of "where do we spend it" than "whose taxes do we raise now" - as has been the unfortunate talk in years past.