Ravell Call, Deseret News
Utah Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a battle over the state budget.

SALT LAKE CITY — Public education funding has Democratic and Republican lawmakers squabbling as they gear up for the annual battle over the state budget.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, pushed for the Executive Appropriations Committee to include in its base budget plan $41 million for an additional 12,500 students entering the school system.

But the GOP-controlled committee voted down the proposal, with Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, calling it premature.

That drew the ire of Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.

“How is this possible?” he said. “Have we sunk so low that Waddoups and his cronies are now directly stealing money from the backpacks of our kids?”

Waddoups brushed off the criticism as political rhetoric.

"I think you're looking at electioneering, you're looking at slogan-making," he said Wednesday on "Capitol Voices," a monthly news conference aired by Salt Lake Community College. "A few years ago, the slogan was we were paving over children. This year we're taking it out of their backpacks. Of course, none of that is true."

Morgan said there's nothing premature about including the $41 million in a base budget as a starting point. Enrollment growth, she said, historically has been part of the base.

"I also want to say that there is absolutely no electioneering going on. That is not what this is all about and that is a demeaning comment," she said. "I also do not believe we are circumventing any process, we are not tying any hands."

Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled his proposed $12.9 billion state budget Monday. The plan includes a $111 million boost for public education to cover the cost of more students as well as expand all-day kindergarten and other early intervention programs, add testing and start new charter schools.

Herbert's budget anticipates a $128 million surplus from the current budget year and nearly $280 million in additional revenues in the upcoming budget year, much of it from increased income- and sales-tax collections.

Waddoups said at least one senator will propose legislation in 2012 that he hopes will better use existing education dollars.

"And therefore we won't necessarily put the new money, maybe not even all the existing money, into the same old programs that have started to be stale and not keep up with the rest of the world," he said.

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