Utah state government has been wallowing in tax cash the past few years, and now a new financial report shows that carry-over cash has been growing as well.

For many years, the Legislature has given some state agencies the authority to carry-over unspent cash into the next fiscal year.

A new report shows that over the past five years, those unspent monies — called "non-lapsing balances" — have fluctuated from $309 million to $534 million.

Last year it was $463 million. That's around half a billion dollars rolling over in various state accounts one year to the next.

Considering that the state's whole budget is around $12 billion, half a billion dollars in carry-over cash is no small amount.

The Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee heard the report Tuesday afternoon. Much of that cash rollover comes in the relatively new state program — USTAR — an effort by state universities and economic development to provide start-up funds to firms growing out of research at the institutions of higher learning.

USTAR had $58 million in carry-over funds in 2008.

There are any number of exemptions that allow for nonlapsing funds. And one is money that lawmakers give to themselves — the Legislature — and to their own staff offices.

Over the past two fiscal years, each year a full one-fourth of the Legislature's own budget, between $17 million and $20 million, was unspent and just carried over to the next budget year, leaving legislative leaders a lot of cash to spend if they so desired, the new report shows.

While the Legislature's own carry-over cash increased in 2008, most other agencies' carry-over was decreasing — the total cash carry-over in state government went from $534 million in 2007 to $463 million in fiscal 2008.

Sometimes the Legislature allows carry-over funds because all of the money originally appropriated to an executive branch agency can't be spent in one fiscal year.

Spencer Pratt, a legislative budgeter, came up with eight recommendations to better control and monitor cash carry-over. "It is growing. Some agencies have not been too diligent in one-time projects. We need a better budget submission process," he said.

Colleges and universities only report their nonlapsing funds to the governor or Legislature once a year, something Pratt said should be changed to more timely reporting.

In fact, higher education officials didn't even respond to the Legislature's request on its unspent cash. Financial bosses at those institutions didn't want to release unaudited financial numbers, Pratt said.

Giving one example, 21 cents of every dollar was not spent in the Administrative Services Department in 2007, said Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara. Some states had caps — perhaps only 10 percent of each department's budget could carry over.

He said, "some of these items (in Utah) have excess of 10 percent and 20 percent continually. Are we just funding" on and on with little attempt to find out why the money is not being spent or returned to state coffers for lawmakers to reallocate?


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