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Democrats offer budget-cut plan

They say state workers should not take a hit

SHARE Democrats offer budget-cut plan

State Democratic lawmakers say the Legislature can balance the current year's budget without hurting state workers or "the most vulnerable among us."

House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday presented their own way to come up with $202 million in budget cuts this year brought on by a downturn in the state's economy.

But they would use $30 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund, a move the majority Republicans have already rejected.

Democrats also use considerable "one-time" money in their 2001-02 fix up, something Republicans want to avoid so more problems aren't created in putting together next year's budget — a task the 2002 Legislature will undertake in a couple of weeks.

"We provide the $2.5 million needed for CHIP (a child health insurance program for low-income families) and for Medicaid prescription payments that Republicans would harm," said House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake. "We don't have to hurt those good programs."

"The Republicans seem to want to balance this budget on two groups — poor children and state workers," said House Democratic Assistant Whip Brad King, D-Price. "We don't need to harm Human Service programs; not furlough state workers for a day."

But the Democratic plan may have areas Republicans won't accept.

Democrats get their $202 million like this: $36.6 million in savings already made by GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt; $30 million from the Rainy Day Fund; $18.6 million through delaying construction of University of Utah and a Utah State University buildings that await matching contributions from donors; $52 million in cash that was supposed to go to other higher education buildings, instead bonding for those structures; $32 million in savings from the recently completed I-15 construction; and $33.3 million from a variety of sources — mostly one-time savings — that show up through variations in state accounts.

House Majority Leader Kevin, Gar, R-Layton, said it appears to him the Democrats are using too much one-time monies to plug holes in ongoing programs. "They're balancing their budget on unfirm footing. We can't do that. Their budget doesn't work."

It is a lot of "one-time" funds, says Becker.

"But we all know that every year we put one-time monies into the budget. We always have, and this is no different," he said.

Leavitt recommended using $67 million of the $120 million Rainy Day savings account. "We only use $30 million," said Becker. "And it is appropriate."

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker used to be a House GOP leader, and her bill set up the emergency savings fund in the early 1990s. Becker quoted Walker from a floor speech she gave on her bill, saying the fund would be used "to avoid mid-year budget cuts."

"That is what it was intended for and exactly how we would use it," said Becker.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com