Against the backdrop of another strong economic year – but also record inflation – final estimates of the state budget show that the Utah legislature again has a big chunk of new money to spend.
Like more than $ 2 billion.
After new revenue estimates added an additional $ 432 million in one-time revenue and $ 384 million in current funds than previously expected, this year the Utah legislature has about $ 1.46 billion in one-time cash and $ 570 million in new cash outlays.
“I know it sounds like big money. It’s big money, “House Speaker Brad Last, R-Hurricane, told lawmakers last week when final budget estimates were released. But he warned that” this is almost not enough “to meet budget requests in excess of 2. $ 4 billion in one-time requests and over $ 1 billion in current requests.
As lawmakers worked to prioritize these inquiries – saying they plan to be wary of spending concerned about the impact of inflation on the economy – Utah weighed how they would like the money to be spent.
As they are in past years, most Utah residents want extra income to go to education this year. The next priority is to reduce taxes.
This follows a new poll by the Deseret News / Hinckley Institute for Politics, which asked Utah how they prefer the legislature to spend this year’s budget surplus. The majority of residents – 43% – said they would like the money to go to increase spending on education, and 25% want it to finance tax cuts.
A smaller number, 17%, said they wanted money to fund infrastructure projects for transportation and roads, while 6% said they should be used to maintain the Utah Foundation on a rainy day. Nine percent said they did not know.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted a survey of 808 registered voters in Utah on Feb. 7-17 for Deseret News and the Hinckley Policy Institute. Has an error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.
The poll results appear when lawmakers enter the final week of the 2022 legislative session and make some final touches to the budget. The Executive Committee on Appropriations is expected to publish a final list of appropriations on Friday and set a budget.
What do legislators prefer?
Senate Budget Chairman Jerry Stevenson R-Leighton told reporters Thursday that he expects big gains for education in the budget.
“Education is very well taken care of,” Stevenson said, noting that both public and higher education will be “very well funded.” He said they expect a significant increase in the weighted unit of students – the formula for funding public schools – and dollars for various programs.
But he also added that there will probably be a significant amount of money hidden in savings.
“This economy is a little scary,” he said, noting that economists are wary of the impact of federal stimulus money and inflation on the state budget.
“I hope our voters will be very happy with what we have done with education,” he said, “but this is not a year to spend it all because of uncertainty.”
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R. Cavesville, said in an interview with Deseret News on Thursday that lawmakers this year will make “additional and significant investments” in public and higher education. This is in addition to high infrastructure costs, especially investment in transportation and funding to help facilitate overcrowding of public parks.
“I think both education systems will go very well,” Wilson said, although he had the same warnings as Stevenson. “However, it is difficult. We recognize that inflation is high now, and so we are trying to take care of our teachers and other educators as well as civil servants and balance all interests across the state. ”
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute for Politics at the University of Utah, said that at this session “everything shows that“ the intentions of the legislature coincide with the wishes of Utah voters. I expect that we will see a large amount of this money for education. ”
It is important to note that most of the state funds this year have already been set aside for priorities, especially the current ones.
In December, ahead of the legislative session, the Executive Committee on Allocations allocated about $ 354 million (including $ 19 million in one-off funds) to increase the number of educators, inflation, and other public education needs.
As for tax cuts? Lawmakers have already budgeted $ 193 million in tax cutsincluding $ 163 million for an overall reduction in the income tax rate for all Utah states, lower the Utah income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.85%. Lawmakers also approved $ 15 million non-refundable income tax credit focused on the low-income states of Utah and Fr. An extension of $ 15 million for the state tax credit for social security.
Senate President Stuart Adams R. Leighton said this year’s budget would be characterized by “tax cuts and record, if not near-record, spending on education.”
“If you can cut taxes and provide significant funding at the same time, that means we’re doing something right,” Adams said, adding that the budget will also include a significant increase in spending on government and infrastructure.
“The budget will not be perfect, there is no such thing,” Adams said. “But it will be a very good budget.”
And what about the debate over the cost of constitutional education?
There is a fold that complicates the state’s relationship with education spending.
Under the Utah Constitution, the legislature is required to spend income dollars on education – but legislative leaders offer a future an amendment to the constitution to effectively eliminate this mark. They say the changes are needed to give lawmakers more budget flexibility at a time when sales tax revenue is not growing at the same rate as income tax. This lawmakers have expressed concern for many years.
According to legal analysts and fiscal analysts from the governor’s office, about 70% of the recently projected current state revenue comes from the education fund (income tax) and 30% from the general fund (sales tax).
Voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution. To put the issue to a vote, a joint resolution would need to be passed by both legislatures by a two-thirds majority.
Such a resolution has not yet appeared during the 2022 session. On Thursday, lawmakers involved in the debate, House Speaker and Senator Anne Milner, R. Ogden, said there was only a week left, which is unlikely they will move until this year. They said it was a conversation that is likely to continue after this year’s session and next year.
“When we do that, we want it to be right,” Milner told reporters. “So we’ll get to that after the session … In my opinion, I think we’re kind of putting it off.”
Adams said the structural imbalance in state funding “is a problem, and whether it is resolved at this session or next, we need those who do not live, eat, drink or sleep in this budget, realized that this is a significant problem in the state. We are not going to give up work on this. ”
Wilson said these “big problems usually take time and we just wanted to make sure we measured the issue twice and we didn’t feel we had time for that.”
Thus, this year nothing will change the constitutional restrictions of legislators on income tax revenues – this means that legislators will still have to spend most of the surplus on education.
According to fiscal analysts, lawmakers have about $ 617 million in one-time funds and $ 429 million in current funds in the general fund, as well as an additional $ 1.68 billion in one-time funds and $ 1.07 billion in the education fund.
However, the debate over Utah’s constitutional requirements to spend income tax on education is not fading. The challenge for lawmakers moving forward will be to propose an amendment to the Constitution as a solution to correct structural imbalances in state funding, and to inform Utah residents that they still prefer education.
“Their success will be due to their ability to convince the public that education is still a priority for the legislature when they make changes,” Perry said. “As far as they can make sure the balance is found and these assurances are obtained and are believed to determine how successful they are in the change.”