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Utah Legislature: Lawmakers say education cut may be smaller

SALT LAKE CITY — While lawmakers say they hope the public education spending bill won't go through as is because it reflects 12 percent budget cut, the bill passed in the House.

The Legislature must pass a bill within the first 10 days of the session appropriating funds to public education's base budget. "This is not the final appropriation for public education but just the beginning," said Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan.

However, lawmakers won't know for a couple weeks how state budget numbers pan out. They remain optimistic that estimated revenue numbers will be good and education won't have to be cut that deeply.

House Minority Leader Rep. David Litvack, D-West Valley City, said he knows there is a lot of angst but emphasizes supporting HB1 right now doesn't mean supporting the cuts. "We're early in our process," he said, adding lawmakers hope the final public education budget bill "will look very different in a positive way."

If things don't go well, lawmakers are eyeing a $100 million Rainy Day Fund. There is also the option of raising taxes to fill in the monetary gaps.

The total appropriated public education budget, including the 12 percent cut, is $2.2 billion. It doesn't account for one-time money but only ongoing funds.

With 11,000 new students expected for the 2011-2012 school year, the weighted pupil unit funding would drop from $2,577 to $2,487 per student.

Voting for the bill, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said, "I'm going to take a leap of faith."

— Amy K. Stewart