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Republicans in Utah Senate endorse budget balancing compromise plan

By Sun Advocate

Utah lawmakers met in special session last week to address a $173 million revenue shortfall for the state’s fiscal year 2003 budget.
Legislators reviewed three budget-balancing proposals during the appropriation subcommittee meetings.
The first plan developed by the lawmakers recommended an average 4.95 percent reduction in state programs
The second proposal held public education harmless, but added an additional 2.24 percent average reduction to other state programs.
The two alternatives contained options discussed by legislative fiscal analysts, the governor’s planning and budget office as well as state agencies.
The third option, forwarded by Utah Republican leadership, represents a compromise plan combining a variety of budget balancing options.
The proposal addresses the $173 million shortfall with approximately $101 million in reductions, $16 million in cash generated by delaying various capital facilities projects in Utah, $17 million from the tobacco settlement fund and about $39 million in centennial highway revenues.
Senate Republicans adopted the leadership proposal during the caucus meeting .
“Leadership’s plan gives a common-sense solution to our current budget dilemma,” maintained Senate president Al Mansell. “The plan proposes a balanced budget without raising taxes or placing a disproportionate burden on any one department or agency.”
According to the leadership, the proposal is balanced, relies on minor impacts to public and higher education, utilizes little one-time money and part of the cash set aside for road and building construction.
The Republicans in the Utah Senate indicated that the third alternative constitutes a reasonable proposal that reduces state government where possible, but does not hurt essential infrastructure and education needs.
Transferring $17 million from the tobacco settlement will require a three-fourths vote of the Utah Legislature, explained the leadership.
The proposed action would leave a $27 million fund balance.
Taking $39 million from the centennial highway fund would result in a two-year extension of bond payments because it is ongoing money. “You can’t solve our revenue shortfall by plugging the holes with one-time money.”
Other Utah lawmakers have encouraged the use of more one-time money to fill the $173 million deficit. But the Republican leadership viewed the action as a temporary resolution to the problem
While acknowledging that the $101 million in reductions are difficult, Republican leadership officials indicated that the forced evaluation of state programs will reduce the size of government.
Utah lawmakers will take one week and a half to further consider budget balancing options and receive constituent comments in connection with the matter.
The legislators serving on the subcommittees will reconvene July 8 in meetings to finalize recommendations to submit to the state’s executive appropriations panel.
After the executive committee takes final action on the recommendations, legislative staff will prepare and distribute appropriation bills balancing the fiscal year 2002 budget.
The proposed bills will be submitted for the consideration by the full Utah Legislature.

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