Utah prides itself in its stern, no-nonsense approach to crime and criminals.
Lawmakers in the Beehive State pass increasingly strict mandates for sentencing those who violate the laws of society. Lock them up and keep them behind bars, they say.In poll after poll, Utah residents rank crime as one of their top two concerns out of all the issues that affect their lives and livelihoods.
And so it is ironic that as the Utah Legislature finishes the bulk of its 1999 budget work, the corrections budget is in the most trouble.
As it stands, there is no new money to make Utah prisons larger; there is no money to pay costs to ship the overload of prisoners elsewhere for housing, and the base budget used to pay to house, supervise and care for inmates locally has been cut.
"I'm very disappointed - they're dealing only with the bed needs," Pete Haun, director of the state's corrections department, said Wednesday. And they're not really dealing with that adequately thus far, he said.
In less than a year, the state will have 702 more inmates than it can house in Utah jails and prisons, according to Rep. John Valentine, R-Provo, assistant majority whip and one of the Legislature's most savvy money men.
Inmates are getting out an average 18 months early now. That will have to change. Inmates will be released sooner, and corrections officials say they'll do what they have to do despite public sentiment.
"That's something we can't control (crowding)," Haun said.
The subcommittee approved a $164 million budget for adult corrections that barely allows the department to maintain the status quo, according to corrections officials. It does nothing to deal with growth to the system that has averaged 500 inmates each year.
Other departments swallowed their share of cuts and winnowing of the ambitious budget totals suggested by Gov. Mike Leavitt. The following is a summary of budget hits and misses subcommittees approved Wednesday:
- Higher education
The subcommittee has proposed a $657.3 million budget for the state's colleges in 1999, a $9.5 million increase to the base budget and $2.7 million in one-time funds.
The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee also voted to send to the Executive Appropriations Committee three lists of other priorities totaling more than $10 million.
In a surprise move, the committee voted to fund an occupational therapy program at the University of Utah with $174,500 in ongoing money, a sum previously recommended for a new dental hygiene program at Dixie College.
The committee then recommended to fund the dental hygiene program as a building block, which reduces its chances of being funded.
The 2.7 percent tuition increase recommended by the State Board of Regents should hold unless lawmakers grant state employees more than a 3 percent pay raise.
The higher-education appropriations committee has apparently abandoned a proposal to increase graduate school tuition. It instead will direct the regents and the legislative fiscal analyst to present to the Legislature a report on the issue during the interim.
- Public education
The budget subcommittee approved a 3 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit, the basic formula by which the state pays to educate children, bringing total spending to $1,845 per student.
The governor and education officials sought a 4 percent WPU increase. The subcommittee will recommend that extra money set aside for "critical needs" be contributed to this pot.
Executive Appropriations has set aside $10 million for education initiatives. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Scott Bean expects that to help fund several bills: one seeking $13.6 million for class-size reduction in seventh and eighth grades; $2 million for charter schools and 21st Century Schools (similar to Centennial Schools) and $3 million for teacher supplies and materials.
The golden child of the moment, officials for the Utah Department of Transportation said they got just about everything they wanted in final voting Wednesday.
The subcommittee forwarded to the Executive Appropriations Committee a proposed UDOT operating budget of $835.4 million for fiscal year 1999. That amount includes $188 million from the $600 million the state borrowed last year for road construction projects.
Much of the budget, nearly $563 million, will be spent on construction, including $373 million for Centennial Highway Fund projects - primarily, I-15 reconstruction in Salt Lake County.
The subcommittee, however, said it fears the state may only receive two-thirds of the $150 million in federal funds originally expected during '98 and '99 to fund Centennial projects.
As for the much-discussed shortfall in Centennial Fund financing for '99, the subcommittee recommends additional bonding - between $175 million and $200 million - to make up the difference.
- Health and human services
The Department of Health is set to receive about $175 million, which is $2 million less than Leavitt recommended - but money for a program that would insure 30,000 children of poor working families in Utah has not been secured.
Supporters had hoped the Executive Appropriations Committee would put $3.3 million into Medicaid to bolster the program. By doing that, Utah hospitals had agreed to continue paying the state a bed-tax that would fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and allow the state to receive millions in federal money.
Instead, a fiscal note for half the needed money has been placed on HB137, which creates CHIP.
The remaining money, about $1.5 million, is on the wish list of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. Both pieces must now be funded or the program may never get off the ground.
The Department of Human Services should get about $178 million, about $2 million less than Leavitt recommended.
- Economic development and human resources
The Utah Travel Council had a near miss early on, but most needs for the Department of Community and Economic Development should be met by the recommendations approved Wednesday, according to DCED executive director David B. Winder.
The committee approved about $31.7 million from the general fund to cover Winder's department, human resources and the Utah Technology Finance Corp.
At the beginning of the session, legislators said they hadn't "seen results" from the travel council and talked about yanking funding early in the session, but eventually restored $4.3 million for the council.
Another department priority is the Industrial Assistance Fund, which provides grants and loans as incentives for companies to expand in Utah.
Because revenues exceeded budgeted expenditures for the current fiscal year, Winder said, the subcommittee approved an additional $1.7 million for the fund for fiscal 1998. It also approved $450,000 for the fund for fiscal 1999.
"If we could get more money, we could bring a lot more value to the taxpayers . . . another million dollars, for example, could do wonders."
Leaders were stern in their directions to budget committee chairmen as they began building the budgets early on. Balance your budgets, leaders said. Don't request more than allocated.
Most committees did balance their budgets, but all made secondary "wish lists" for neglected programs should more money be available. On those wish lists go the programs that haven't been assured money but that legislators long to see funded.
Sometimes, they are truly wishful.
The Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee's wish list is $22 million long: $6 million for services and meals for the elderly and $5 million for a waiting list for people with disabilities that is only set to receive $500,000 this year.
The Executive Office, Criminal Justice and Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 16-item wish list worth $20.9 million.
The list includes: $1.4 million for jail contracting, restoration of another $1.4 million in cuts to its base budget and $390,000 in training money for youth corrections.
Youth corrections wants $1.9 million for out-of-state placements. The committee restored $75,000 of the Utah Council on Crime Prevention's $144,700 budget.
Although money for the $6.1 billion state budget is vaporous due to high road, education and health and human services costs, there are still a few pockets of money lawmakers could choose to divert to these crisis areas.
It amounts to about $70 million, and everyone is hoping for a piece of it.
- There is $25 million lawmakers said would go toward the massive rebuilding of Interstate 15. It is assumed this money is going toward roads.
- There is another $25 million legislative leaders set aside five weeks ago during a discussion of egregiously low state wages to deal with "critical needs." It is assumed this money is going for salary increases.
- There is $5 million set aside to pay for the "fiscal notes" attached to bills that become law.
- There is $5 million set aside for both House and Senate Republicans to pay for "pet projects" from their districts, such as improvements to museums or tax breaks for certain industries.
- And $10 million has been set aside for as-yet-undefined public education initiatives.