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STATE BUDGET PROCESS CONFUSING, FRUSTRATING

SHARE STATE BUDGET PROCESS CONFUSING, FRUSTRATING

When Sen. Eldon Money interrupted an executive appropriations session Wednesday to demand funding for a 1995 domestic violence bill, his logic earned him more than a few chuckles of disbelief.

Money's position, albeit sensible - "You passed the bill last year. You should fund it" - was exemplary of a weeklong series of budgeting antics as lawmakers near the midnight hour for setting a state budget.Last year's HB314, which requires court clerks to assist in completing protective orders, needs $458,000 to make it work, Money said, suggesting it come from this year's Criminal Justice budget. The clerk issue is among the top priorities of courts officials at the Legislature this year.

"If you weren't going to fund it, you should have killed the bill last year," he said. "I'm saying you should come up with it."

Despite the senator's bellowing, his request fell on deaf ears. Eventually, even Money himself had to grin.

Money's initial loss is no surprise in a year when analysts are struggling with recommended cuts in even the base of many state budgets. Committees throughout the week have come before the joint Executive Appropriations Committee, hat in hand and ready to deal.

There's been no room for compromise, however. Until now. News that GOP leaders support a limited bond has some lawmakers lobbying their wish lists.

Earlier this week, the Executive Appropriations Committee sent back at least three subcommittee budgets with little discussion after the figures came in over the target.

In the case of Economic Development and Human Resources, subcommittee members were ordered back to the drawing board, asked to return after they'd figured into their budget $2 million for the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The lawmakers gaped open-mouthed until they realized the committee was serious, then one subcommittee head regained his composure enough to criticize the request as an "April Fool's Day motion."

"We looked at this from top to bottom . . " House chair Rep. Norm L. Nielsen began. But appropriations leaders cut him off, repeating their request that Huntsman's project be funded.

"It was our intent that that be funded through your committee," Senate Chair Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, said. Period.

Then on Thursday, welcome news arrived for some committees.

Republicans announced they support a bond, $32 million for prisons only. Of the $50 million cash they'd earlier earmarked for buildings, half will go to the needy, with the rest for critical, non-prison buildings, they said.

The move comes after GOP leadership had announced early on its desire not to bond in a year of excess, to pay cash instead. Support began to crumble, however, as subcommittees were forced to cut.

So far, budgets based on the original "no bond" plan have passed the Executive Appropriations Committee for Commerce and Revenue; Transportation and Environmental Quality; Executive Offices, Criminal Justice and Legislature; Higher Education; Natural Resources and Capital Facilities and Administrative Services.

Those yet to come back include Human Serivces and Health; Public Education; and Economic Development and Human Resources.

Appropriations leaders will continue to hear the budgets tonight. After approving them at the no-bond level, they'll consider the unfunded items on committees' priorities lists and determine where to send the cash.

"We try and find out where the hot spots are," said Rep. Marty Stephens, R-Farr West. "We're going to try to fund most of those things."

Stephens anticipates seeing a plan unveiled in caucus today that will spell out where the money will go.