Preparing Utahns for bad news about the dwindling state budget, GOP state Senate leaders told the Deseret News that should tax collections fall well short this fiscal year, the Legislature already has a lot of cash set aside for this rainy day.
State economists are set to give their first report on state revenues this fiscal year, which started July 1. And Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, and Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, told the newspaper's editorial board Monday that they don't expect a rosy revenue picture.
But not to worry, said the legislators. The GOP majority in the 2008 Legislature put aside $100 million in the state's education fund, and the state's two Rainy Day funds have, together, more than $400 million.
Hopefully, Republican leaders said, that will be enough to carry the state through what is believed to be a short economic downturn.
"We started doing a number of things to weather any storm we may have," Valentine said. "Obviously it depends on how long this storm is going to be. If this storm is five years, then nobody can be prepared. But if it follows typical economic cycles, we feel like we've done some pretty good things to do that."
GOP leaders have also sent state agencies letters saying they should prepare to trim anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent from their budgets this year just in case tax revenues fall even farther than anticipated now.
In part, Valentine and Bramble want to let voters know that even though the state budget ended the last fiscal year $100 million in the red, and tax revenues are falling short of estimates this year, Utah is still being well-managed.
That is the basic message of the Utah Republican Party's expensive "I Can" public relations campaign this summer and fall telling Utahns they have been well-served by 25 years of Republican rule in the Statehouse.
The GOP leaders listed all the Republican accomplishments for the newspaper editors:
• Paid cash for infrastructure to avoid increased loan interest costs.
• Dumped plenty of cash in the Rainy Day funds, now sitting at $414 million.
• Left $100 million unspent in the Uniform School Fund.
• Budgeted for programs with an eye toward the cyclical nature of the economy.
• Funded one-time expenses with ongoing money to create a structural surplus.
• Established a disaster recovery fund, which currently has $33 million in the bank.
Democrats have a bit of a different view. They point out in their state party platform that Utah still lags behind the nation in any number of areas: public school classroom size, spending per student, teacher pay, deteriorating and overcrowded freeways, clean air and so on."There is no question it was smart to put money in the Rainy Day funds. We were pushing that as well," said Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. "Whether it was enough, its hard to tell because there is no transparency in government spending."