It wasn't exactly what the doctor ordered, but proponents are nevertheless hoping it will provide a cure.
The House Friday passed HB270 to limit growth in state spending, but only after passing an amendment that made it a whole lot less limiting than originally designed by GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter and sponsor Rep. Glen Brown, R-Coalville."We made more of a philosophical statement," said Brown. "But it doesn't do a whole lot for actual limitation."
The bill - which passed by a 56-19 vote - is a high priority for Bangerter. The measure now goes to the Senate.
Under the provisions of HB270, government spending could increase no faster than the rate of population growth and the rate of inflation. And it would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a referendum by voters to override the spending limitation provisions.
Brown argued long and passionately that the state must demonstrate a willingness to cap government spending, while opponents, like House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, argued that the bill may not pass constitutional tests and that by passing it, lawmakers are saying they haven't done a very good job.
"We have been acting responsibly for years," said Dmitrich. "But to pass this bill we're sending a message we aren't doing our jobs, that we aren't in support of education."
In fact, education was the thorniest issue of debate. More than a dozen Republicans sided with a solid Democratic block to support an amendment that changed the base year upon which the law hinges.
An amendment by Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, changed the base year from 1988 (which Bangerter and Brown wanted) to 1985, a year when the state had a whole lot more money to spend, relatively speaking.
Brown argued that even under the pre-amended bill, lawmakers had a lot of room to spend new revenues. Using a 1988 base, the Legislature could have spent $37 million more than Bangerter has recommended for the 1990 budget and still remained within the limitations of the formula.
But by moving the base year to 1985, the Legislature could spend $57 million more than Bangerter's recommended budget.
"Passing the amendment doesn't violate the principle of the bill," said Brown, "but there is no way the Legislature is going to have $57 million in revenue growth. The amendment, in effect, puts the limitation cap out of reach of this Legislature."
Frandsen's amendment was a compromise measure. He had prepared an amendment that would have instead based the formula on inflation and the growth in school-age children - something that would have given lawmakers $50 million more to spend.
"(The original bill) doesn't take into consideration school age children," argued Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful. "Yet school children are the biggest demand on the state budget."
Burningham and others argued that under the provisions of HB270 before it was amended the state could experience no inflation and no overall population growth, yet could experience growth in the number of children entering the school system.
"Since 1982, the school-age population growth has always exceeded (overall) population growth," said Burningham.