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Utah GOP lawmakers face decision on $100 million budget deficit, Garn replacement

SHARE Utah GOP lawmakers face decision on $100 million budget deficit, Garn replacement

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah state government continues to fall short in tax revenue — by about $100 million at last count — state House Republicans will decide Wednesday if a few of their number can tap into the House's majority political PAC for needed primary funds.

The whole Legislature comes into its first interim study day Wednesday after the 2010 Legislature adjourned March 11. And GOP lawmakers have a grab bag of decisions to make.

A lot has changed this spring since legislators last met.

Several GOP House members have been knocked out of office in their county or state party conventions. The lame ducks can pretty much do as they like.

A few others have been forced into a Republican primary June 22. And those incumbents would like to tap into the House's majority political action committee for money to campaign against their GOP challengers.

"We'll decide that (campaign funding) issue, I hope, Wednesday," said House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara.

Clark says leaders of both political parties will be told this afternoon that the state is running about $100 million in the red.

"We have found a way through bookkeeping to take care of that," Clark said.

Simply put, legislators will transfer money from the fiscal 2010-11 budget, which starts July 1, back into this year's budget. And, thus, the law which says the state must end its fiscal year (June 30) with a balanced budget will be followed.

Of course, that means legislators start the next fiscal year $100 million short. But Clark said it's the belief of state economists, both from the executive and legislative branches, that fiscal 2011 will see tax revenues jump back more quickly than previously anticipated.

"It will be down a little deeper, bounce back a little faster," said Clark, a southern Utah banker.

Besides deciding whether to give incumbent Republicans cash from the House majority PAC, the House caucus will also decide whether to replace former Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, in leadership, and if so, how.

Clark said he prefers that in this heated political season, there not be a "full blown leadership" races now. If the caucus demands that, however, those elections will take place in the June interim day caucus.

Clark's position as speaker is secure. But with Garn's resignation from the House, his top leadership post is vacant. It could remain so. Or the rest of leadership could just move up one slot. Or there could be a regular campaign for the majority leader post, with subsequent leadership posts (assistant whip and whip) opening up if any of those individuals want to run for a higher leadership office, as well.

Finally, Clark said no immediate decision need be made on the future of Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful.

Allen is not running for re-election to her district this year. And she surprised Republicans and Democrats alike when several weeks ago she accepted the invitation of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon to be his lieutenant governor partner.

That means Allen, now on the Democratic Party ticket, would still be meeting in the House GOP caucus.

Clark met with Allen a week ago and both decided, he said, "to be respectful of each other's'" political situation.

In short, Allen will not now be forced out of the House Republican caucus. "Our meetings are open to anyone," said Clark, and that certainly extends to Allen, a 16-year GOP incumbent. Allen is also co-chairman of the Legislature's Economic Development and Revenue Appropriations Subcommittee. Budget committees usually don't meet during the interim, but can, especially if there is a special session to cut state budgets.

But, the caucus will be closed as House Republicans talk election funding and strategy. And if Allen seeks to stay in such a closed caucus, then some kind of decision must be made whether to let her or not.

She could avoid that situation simply by either not attending the caucuses — held each lunchtime during the monthly interim study day — or by leaving if the caucus is closed to the press and public. "We'll see how it goes," Clark said.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com