Some state agencies could face a bigger budget cut than others, as lawmakers grapple with a $272 million revenue shortfall during the special session that begins Thursday.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. proposed cutting all state agencies by the same amount, about 3 percent. That would make up about half the shortfall, with the rest coming from bonding for road and building projects that were to have been paid for with cash.
But Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said the question of whether the state should take on new debt in the current economic climate is the focus of budget negotiations with Huntsman.
"The governor wants to protect state agencies," Valentine said, while lawmakers are concerned about infrastructure projects being used as "a bank account" to balance the shortfall.
As a result, it appears likely lawmakers will end up cutting more from state agencies. And Valentine said those agencies that received significant budget increases last session compared to others in state government may take a bigger hit.
Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the governor is willing to talk.
"We don't have an exact proposal that we're 100 percent committed to at this point. We realize that there will likely need to be some flexibility in applying the cuts, and we're willing to work with the Legislature to determine where those should be," she said.
Roskelley pointed out that even before the budget year began July 1, the governor had state-agency heads prepare proposals to trim their spending by 1 percent, 3 percent and 5 percent, in anticipation of possible revenue shortfalls.
She said she thinks the final cuts "will be within the ranges that we looked at." But, Roskelley said, asking any government agency to go beyond a 5 percent cut "would be difficult."
Just which agencies will be most affected remains to be seen. The governor and legislative leaders have agreed to hold public schools harmless, although that pledge does not include the state Office of Education that administers funding.
Valentine said legislative leaders are putting together a "framework" for the budget cuts that will be presented to majority Republicans when they meet Thursday morning shortly after the start of the special session.
The rest of Thursday is expected to be spent in appropriations subcommittee meetings, where lawmakers are scheduled to give state agencies an opportunity to detail the effects of budget cuts.
Last week, Huntsman announced the special session, saying it was time to deal with what was then estimated at a $200 million shortfall. But now both his office and the legislative fiscal analyst agree that income, sales and other taxes will be $272.4 million less than anticipated.Valentine said the larger number, made public Monday, wasn't a surprise. "It was in the range of what we thought," the Senate president said, pointing out that it amounts to only about 4 percent of the state's $13 billion budget.
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