Face masks were in high fashion on Capitol Hill on June 18 as the Utah Legislature acted to balance the state’s 2020 budget while protecting public schools and social services programs.
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers have balanced the state’s 2021 budget, but still found more money for education and social services programs.
During their special session June 18, legislators cut Utah’s proposed $20 billion budget for next year by about $800 million while increasing spending for what they identified as “high priority needs,” including school funding, Medicaid growth, mental health care, affordable housing and homelessness.
Following the session, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said that budget-balancing act was only possible due to the lawmakers’ previous fiscal responsibility in building up the state’s so-called “rainy day” reserve funds.
While acknowledging that the budget cutting process had been far from painless, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said that his legislative colleagues could nevertheless be proud of their efforts.
Although many worthy bills sponsored by lawmakers during the 2020 general session of the Legislature will no longer be funded, Wilson emphasized that “our constituents, especially those that are vulnerable in this state, are going to be well taken care of.”
Those unexpected spending increases came at the expense of statewide infrastructure projects and a pay increase for state workers.
Public education was the biggest recipient of lawmakers’ generosity. State schools will see in 1.8 percent boost in funding through the weighted pupil unit and $50 million for anticipated increased enrollment next year. Utah public schools are also in line for significant funding from the federal CARES Act, including $125 million for broadband and digital access.
The fifth special session of the Legislature was planned to address what was expected to be as much as a $2 billion shortfall in state tax revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Over previous weeks, lawmakers had met to plan budget cuts of up to 10 percent, while advocacy groups pleaded for their cherished programs to be spared.
But the state’s fiscal analysts had announced earlier this week that the revenue shortfall was projected to be less than half of the $2 billion worst-case scenario.
Utah House and Senate members were therefore able to craft the new $19.2 billion budget through a combination of budget cuts and borrowing from the state’s raining day accounts without negatively impacting the most vulnerable segments of the state’s population.