Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. wants an $11.7 billion spending plan for the state next year, no general tax cuts, but increased spending for public education, health care for the uninsured and improved air quality.
Keeping a trend started several years ago, Huntsman a Republican who will seek another four-year term in 2009 wants increases for public education and teachers.
"While the weather outside is frightful, my budget for teachers is delightful," Huntsman told a packed press conference Monday afternoon.
The Weighted Pupil Unit the state's main education funding formula should increase by 7 percent next year. In addition, he wants $26 million just to recruit and retain qualified teachers, on top of any 7 percent increase in salaries.
Huntsman also wants to start a new program aimed at getting more currently uninsured Utahns at least basic health care coverage. It starts at $30 million specifics still to come for a new plan to take effect in 2010.
Finally, Huntsman wants $10.5 million to beef up state air quality programs new monitoring programs to keep better track of the deteriorating air quality along the Wasatch Front, $5 million to increase energy efficiency of state buildings, and $2.4 million to buy new-generation hybrid vehicles for the state fleets.
The state had record-breaking revenues last year more than $1.6 billion between one-time cash surpluses and increased new tax collections.
While this year is good, it's not like before. Huntsman's economists say the new budget, which starts next July, will have $1.1 billion in additional funds, ongoing tax revenue growth combined with one-time surpluses.
In tax revenue growth alone, the state will take in an additional $431 million, even though the 2007 Legislature gave a $220 million tax reduction a year ago.
Huntsman wants no general tax cuts this year, instead opting to spend the anticipated additional tax collections on better teacher pay, health insurance, air quality and a lot more spending on roads.
In fact, Huntsman says a whopping $437 million should be spent on roads and buildings in fiscal 2008-2009.
The Legislature, dominated by Republicans, will set the final budget before they adjourn the 45-day general session around March 1.
Conservative GOP House members have already said that they want to have some kind of tax cuts next year. "The best way to take money off the table" so it is not spent on state programs "is to give tax cuts," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, head of the Conservative Caucus in the House.
But Huntsman says with the more-than-$310-million in tax cuts given over the last two years, it's better to retrench and invest tax dollars into education and his other top priorities.
Now is the time "to address some of (Utah's) most pressing needs," said Huntsman. "My focus continues to be on raising our teachers' salaries up to the national average."
With more than 300,000 Utahns without health insurance, "it is an issue that we must begin to solve," said Huntsman, who wants to study the issue with some extra cash to come up with a plan for 2010.
Besides more cash for air quality endeavors, the governor said his budget "is also investing heavily in our corrections, public safety, human services and transportation infrastructures to ensure the safety of our communities," he added.
Over the last two years, state tax spending has jumped by nearly one-third, leaving some conservative legislators shaking their heads, even as they voted for the budgets.
Huntsman's new budget is just a 3.2 percent increase when federal funds are included, just 3.6 percent hikes in the two main state tax-funded areas, the Education Fund and the General Fund.
Where some of the cash goes:
• $258.2 million in salary hikes and other compensation for state
workers, public education and colleges and universities.
• $142 million for school enrollment growth, Medicaid increases, and higher spending in Human Services and Corrections.
• $10.5 million for air quality and energy development.
• $437 million for roads and buildings.• No general obligation bonds for either roads or buildings, further reducing the state debt.
FY 2009 Total Expenditures
• Transportation operations 2.4 percent
• Corrections (adult/juvenile) 3.5 percent
• Commerce and Workforce Services 3.9 percent
• Human Services 9.1 percent
• Higher Education 11.1 percent
• Capital/Debt 15.8 percent
• Health 17.3 percent