It could be worse.

Utah's new budget may end up being $1 billion less than last year, but other states are hurting even more, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

With just over half the states providing estimates of their projected revenues in the upcoming budget year, shortfalls are already adding up to nearly $65 billion, the "State Budget Update: November 2008" report found.

And while Utah will have about 4 percent less available for the budget year that begins July 1, 2009, the report said 15 of those states are forecasting double-digit shortfalls. Topping the list is Arizona, with nearly a 25 percent budget gap.

"As bad as the current state fiscal situation is, it may pale in comparison to what looms ahead," the report warns, calling the estimates conservative and noting that state finances tend to lag behind the national economy.

When it comes to Utah, the report concluded, "Considering the circumstances, the state is doing relatively well. Officials still have options, such as the rainy day fund ($414 million) or bonding to get through the shortfall."

But the analysts at the organization, based in Washington, D.C., also sounded a note of caution about Utah's fiscal future: "Nevertheless, officials face some difficult choices in the 2009 general session."

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has rolled out his plan for dealing with those choices, a $10.6 billion budget that includes across-the-board cuts of as much as 7 percent that likely mean employee layoffs, as well as a $50 million increase in motor-vehicle registration fees.

"It's important to understand that Utah, though in a difficult economic situation, certainly is in a better place than many other states throughout the country," the governor's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said.

Utah, like two-thirds of the states, has already struggled with shortfalls in the current budget year. Even though lawmakers cut the budget in a special session this fall, Huntsman announced revenues are still another $350 million short and more cuts need to be made.

But when he unveiled his proposed budget on Thursday, the governor pointed out that the situation in other states is dire. Unlike Utah, he said, some states are waiting for President-elect Barack Obama's promised federal, economic-stimulus package to balance their budgets.

"The environment is a tough one," Huntsman said. "Forty-five of 50 states are facing serious budget shortfalls" that he predicted would add up to as much as $150 billion.

Huntsman and other governors met this month with Obama and, not surprisingly, the economy was the focus. The Democratic president-elect has proposed spending up to $500 billion nationwide over two years to jump-start the economy by building roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, as well as helping states deal with Medicaid and food stamp costs.


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