The state of Utah has less cash at the end of fiscal 1997-98 than previously believed - about $30 million less.
Last July (the end of the fiscal year is June 30), the State Tax Commission estimated a $70 million surplus.But there was an error in the calculations, says Commission Chief Economist Doug Macdonald. About four days of tax revenue was double counted and the error wasn't discovered until later.
A final accounting by the Division of State Finance shows the surplus at about $46 million, Gov. Mike Leavitt's office has announced.
That includes a transfer of about $4.7 million to the state's "rainy day" fund, as required by law. So legislators have about $41.2 million to spend come the 1999 Legislature.
The rainy day fund now stands at $88.2 million and can grow to $119 million, under current ceiling caps.
While it would be better to have $70 million in cash than $41 million, it's still better to have a surplus than a shortfall.
As is usually the case, no plans have yet been made for the surplus. Legislators usually spend that money during the next general session, which begins the third Monday in January.
While legislators and Leavitt have given about $250 million worth of tax cuts since 1992, they have also run record state surpluses - most of which have been spent.
Over the last seven years, the state has amassed nearly $440 million in surpluses.
If you add up all of the "surpluses" announced by the governor's office the end of each summer you won't reach the $440 million total, however. That's because executive and legislative budgeters don't count as "surplus" monies spent in mid-year by lawmakers.
For example, let's say that when legislators meet in January 1999 (mid-year of the fiscal year) they decide that there will be $50 million in surplus. They may reopen the current year's budget and spend $25 million. The next summer they would then announce that the state had a $25 million cash surplus.
But in reality, the state had a $50 million surplus. Lawmakers and budgeters just decided to spend half of it halfway through the fiscal year. Legislative leaders argue that if money has been appropriated (midyear or whenever) it is no longer surplus.
This year's $41 million in leftover cash is an accurate measurement, however. The 1998 Legislature "spent" only about $100,000 of the estimated 1997-98 surplus because early revenue estimates showed there would be little, if any, surplus that fiscal year.
Legislators didn't give any of the $440 million in cash back to taxpayers. But they did lower property, sales and income tax rates so in future years less money is taken from residents.
Leavitt said the extra money this year came from unanticipated extra revenues in the inheritance taxes (several large estates were settled and taxes paid), individual income taxes (low unemployment and a growing work force and wages) and investment income.
State money managers are historically conservative about how much money state investments may bring in.
Kim Thorne, director of the division of finance, says it was estimated the state would make $12 million in investments last fiscal year. But apparently money managers did better, bringing in just more than $15 million.