If you want to understand what lawmakers and the governor go through each year when they write the state's budget, state officials have some advice.
Sit in your home some evening and try to determine how much money will be in your checking account exactly 18 months from now. Don't forget to include which checks you think will have cleared the bank on that day."It's an educated projection at best," Dale Hatch, the governor's budget director, said about the state's annual budget process. "No one knows for sure what's going to happen."
Leo Memmott, the man who handles the budget from the legislative side, agrees.
"The difficulty we have is that we're doing estimates now for June 30, 1990,"he said. "Once the Legislature has gone home, the only opportunity to change thebudget is if they (lawmakers) come back (in a special session)."
The annual crystal-ball gazing can have disastrous results, such as when Gov. Norm Bangerter recommended a huge tax increase in 1986 to cover projected shortfalls, then ended up instead with a $110 million surplus.
This year, Hatch and his staff predict the state will have a $14 million surplus at the start of the 1989-90 fiscal year. Memmott and his staff, however, predict a $29 million surplus.
The difference? Both sides have different opinions on oil prices. Memmott andhis staff believe the oil producing countries will stick together and that oil and gas prices will rise. Hatch and his staff believe the opposite.
"This is difficult to do," Memmott concedes. "We're betting on which direction major international events will go."
But to understand how the state completes a budget each year, it's necessary to go all the way back to August. That's when state agencies submit their budgets to the two budget directors. From then on, the legislative and executive branches work more or less independently, each trying to draft a recommended budget.
Once the agencies submit their requests. the governor's staff checks the math, adds the requests and gives the governor advice. The governor then meets in hearings with each agency.
While the hearings are progressing, the governor's budget staff is busy compiling revenue estimates, using the latest figures on tax collections, and using those figures to guess what the future will hold.
The governor, armed with the estimates and fresh from hearings with the agencies, then meets behind closed doors with his staff and writes a balanced budget that is sent to the legislative fiscal analyst at least 30 days before the Legislature meets.
Meanwhile, the legislative analyst's staff is busy preparing its own budget based on how it thinks things will go.
When lawmakers convene in early January, they have two recommended budgets to consider. Their job is to decide which is more accurate or to create one of their own.
Most states have small legislative committees that write the final budget. In Utah, however, all 104 lawmakers have a hand in the process. There are nine appropriations subcommittees, each responsible for a portion of the budget. All meet simultaneously during the session. All include members of the House and Senate.
The committees send their recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee, which compiles and writes the final budget.
Members of this committee get some help. By Feb. 15 the state knows how much tax it collected during the final quarter of the past year. This makes it a little easier for lawmakers to guess what will happen in the future.
Finally, the Legislature writes and passes a budget that is roughly 200-pages thick. Bangerter then either signs the entire budget into law or vetos individual sections he doesn't like.
This line-item veto power can be frustrating to lawmakers, but Utah's legislators should be thankful they don't live in Minnesota.
"The Minnesota governor has the ability to veto anything, even only a word," Memmott said. The result can turn out to be anything but what the legislature voted on.