GOP legislative leaders apparently had a change of heart Monday, agreeing to let Gov. Norm Bangerter boost human services spending at least until voters decide whether to take the sales tax off food in the November election.
The leadership's new stance came after they heard a pitch Monday morning for more money from various human services advocates, including representatives of the United Way and the Utah Hospital Association.The advocates explained the dozen or so items on a list of $8 million in critical needs compiled by the Utah Human Service Coalition that includes $1.5 million for early intervention for handicapped babies and toddlers.
On May 31, the lawmakers told the governor in a closed-door meeting that they would not support a special session or authorize him to go ahead and spend the $8 million.
But they went along Monday with a proposal from House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, who suggested last week that the programs be fully funded but only through the election.
The agreement reached Monday, however, still means no special session. Lawmakers have been worried that if the governor called a special session for human services, they would be pressed to consider many other issues.
The governor, who had called the meeting with human services advocates so legislators could hear their needs firsthand, said the state departments involved will get an additional $4 million through January.
However, Bangerter promised legislative leaders present that he would review the decision again after the initiative to take the sales tax off food is decided.
The governor also said the annual budgeting process would begin in September this year, with state agencies being directed to prepare separate budgets reflecting the estimated $90 million revenue loss if the initiative passes.
During the hourlong meeting, lawmakers repeatedly expressed concerns that they would be stuck making even bigger cuts in the human services budgets if they allowed more money to be spent now.
"We're talking about four months to get in and get out of something. There's no question there are needs. The question is whether this is the right time to do something," said House Majority Assistant Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo.
"Don't build hopes and crush them. Don't put people in programs and yank them out again," Harward warned, adding that no matter how much money is put into human services, there will always be more needs.
And Senate Majority Whip Dix McMullin, R-Salt Lake, told the governor that he would hold him to making sure that all state agencies are prepared for budget reductions if the initiative passes.
The agreement reached Monday will be finalized once legislative leaders send a letter outlining their position to the governor and he gives them a list of the actual expenditures authorized.