Gov. Norm Bangerter likely will receive a 17 percent pay raise next year, but salary increases for state employees were left in the air Friday night as lawmakers put the almost-finishing touches on the state's budget.
The Executive Appropriations Committee, a group of senators and representatives charged with drafting a final budget bill for all lawmakers to consider, were at loggerheads trying to decide whether to grant a 3 percent or 5 percent raise to state employees. They also failed to decide how much of a raise to grant state judges.Otherwise, the committee generally granted the governor what he asked for in his $2.9 billion recommended budget. Unlike recent years, lawmakers this time have had plenty of money to juggle.
The committee did not decide whether to grant Ban-gerter's wish to cut taxes and bond for $50 million. That chore belongs to the Legislature as a whole and will receive plenty of attention next week. (See story on A2.)
But the committee had a surprise for public education. Members voted narrowly to withhold money from public school districts for each child within the district who is not properly immunized against diseases.
The state provides money for each district based on the number of students. In recent years, the money, known as the weighted pupil unit, was not fully funded. This year, the full amount was granted, but committee co-chairman Glen Brown, R-Coalville, said the state has to begin enforcing immunization laws.
"Either we repeal the law or we enforce it," Brown said. He had argued earlier this week that people should be made to pay for immunizations if able, prompting state health officials to argue such a requirement would scare people into leaving their children unimmunized.
By withholding funds, the state will persuade children to receive their shots, Brown said.
However, other lawmakers said Brown's funding restriction is illegal.
"I think the courts will throw that out as high as they can throw it," said Sen. Wilford Black Jr., D-Salt Lake
The committee easily approved many of Bangerter's priorities. For instance, the committee decided to give $13.5 million toward construction of the West Valley Highway, an expressway that will run from 40th West and 21st South to I-15 near the state prison.
That wasn't all. The committee agreed to hire four more employees to weigh and inspect trucks near borders with other states, meaning weigh stations can remain open longer. Of the extra money the four employees bring in, 80 percent will go toward the West Valley Highway.
Bangerter, a native of the west side of the Salt Lake County, promised during his re-election campaign last year to make the highway his top transportation priority. Westside mayors complain there is no major thoroughfare to handle traffic through rapidly growing parts of their cities.
The committee also agreed to make life a little easier for state welfare recipients, increasing their benefits by 3 percent. However, Utahns on welfare still will receive far below the nation's poverty level. The increase will give a family of four $452 monthly. The poverty level, according to 1987 federal guidelines, is $933 monthly for such families.
Members of the House and Senate will consider the committee's final recommendations next week and vote on a final budget. Bangerter then will have the option of signing or vetoing the budget.
Lawmakers had recommended a 25 percent raise for Bangerter, who has earned the same $60,000 yearly salary since accepting a raise during his first year in office. The committee, however, decided a 17 percent raise, to $70,000 yearly, was more appropriate.
However, committee members had trouble with everyone else's salaries. House and Senate Republicans reached different decisions on the salaries of state Supreme Court justices during separate caucus meetings Friday. By the time they began discussing the matter late Friday night, senators were committed to $72,000 and representatives were committed to $70,000.
The caucuses will reconvene Monday to solve the impasse.
But when it comes to raises for state employees, no simple solution is in store.
Bangerter recommended employees get a 3 percent raise, and he asked each state agency to absorb the rising cost of health insurance premiums. The committee decided earlier Friday to give public school districts enough money to cover a 3 percent raise plus extra insurance costs. They reached a stalemate, though, when trying to decide whether to do the same for other state employees.
Opponents argued the agencies had already budgeted for the health costs and employees would be getting a 5 percent raise. That debate also will be settled early next week.