When the Utah Legislature ended its regular session last February, it had made a significant effort to raise more money for education. But in the process, crucial social service needs were shortchanged.
A rising tide of complaints have been voiced ever since about how the state is failing those who need help the most. In large measure, such complaints are justified.Gov. Norm Bangerter was disappointed that legislators failed to fund the human services that he had sought in the budget. Even some legislative leaders admitted that social needs were left wanting at the end of the regular session in February.
Welfare families saw their meager money dwindle in purchasing power due to the lack of adequate cost-of-living funding and mental health needs were not met, forcing a cut in the number of beds at the Utah State Hospital where there is already a waiting list. Other programs involving help for the handicapped, the suffering and the needy were omitted.
In the aftermath of the session, the governor and some lawmakers indicated that if the economy produced an even greater surplus than the generous estimates made in February - a highly optimistic view at the time - there could be additional effort to finance the most urgent social needs.
Since the economy has produced an additional $50 million surplus this fiscal year, Bangerter wants to call a special session to appropriate another $8 million for social services. That is a reasonable goal.
Unfortunately, many Republicans in the House and Senate are opposed to a special session. A House GOP caucus voted against a special session by a narrow margin.
It's not that they are against more adequate funding for social services, but many are nervous about other items that may show up on a special session agenda.
For example, some don't want to deal with the issue of making a $15 million down payment for expansion of the Salt Palace. They see that as a potentially troubling item in an election year.
The governor is adamant about funding the social services and says there will be a special session unless some other way can be found to fund those urgent human services.
Of course, Bangerter has the power to call the Legislature into session, but if most of the members of his own party - which dominates the body - are opposed to taking action, it may be difficult to get any significant decisions out of a brief session.
But those basic social service needs are urgent and ought to transcend politics. Lawmakers should make sure that the deprived, the ailing and the unfortunate are properly cared for.