In the same year when lawmakers are proposing bills that would require the state to gather better DUI data and broaden the definition of driving under the influence, state budgeters are recommending the state not fund the Utah Highway Patrol's elite DUI enforcement division.
The fiscal analyst recommended that instead of spending $552,000 from the general fund for the nine troopers who work full-time catching drunken drivers, lawmakers could tap restricted revenue funds created by the $200-a-car impound fees. From the impound fees, $84 goes to the restricted fund for DUI enforcement efforts by the state and local agencies.
"This shift in the source of funding will not materially impair DUI enforcement from its current level," the fiscal analyst wrote in a budget report.
But taking $552,000 from the restricted revenue funds would require a change in the law, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Earl Morris told members of the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Joint Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday.
"We are concerned about the DUI squad," Morris said. "There's no way we can do without nine troopers."
Mary Phillips, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Wednesday's actions show a "complete lack of understanding of the DUI problem."
"How can the governor back this raid of critical law enforcement funds?" she asked. "Enforcement at a high level is the best prevention we can get." The DUI squad makes a large percentage of the 15,000 DUI arrests each year. Officers are paid out of the overtime fund to make these arrests, she said.
"When we fund overtime shifts, this is not something 'extra.' This is the way you significantly prevent crashes," she said. "This is critical money, doing lifesaving work."
Early Thursday, MADD sent a letter to legislative leaders urging them to reconsider.
"Keep the fund intact," the letter said. "Additionally, in light of the fact that this year there is yet another cut in the amount of the liquor tax that will be available to address DUI and alcohol treatment, this is an outrage!"
Ironically, news of the cut comes as UHP is planning a combined DUI enforcement campaign with more than 50 other agencies around the state this weekend. Their goal is to remind people not to drink and drive during the Olympics.
Even if legislators do change the wording of the law, the money used to cover the shortfall would only fix the problem for one year, Morris reminded lawmakers.
"I don't think we have the ability to just stop DUI enforcement."