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State budget expenses exceed new revenues by nearly $200M

A view of the Utah State Capital in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday, June 17, 2010. Matt Gillis, Deseret News
A view of the Utah State Capital in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday, June 17, 2010. Matt Gillis, Deseret News
MATT GILLIS , Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The list of state expenditures that must be made next year just to keep up with expected increases in everything from the number of public school students to employee health insurance costs added up Tuesday to some $284 million.

But, as members of the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee were told, there's only about $100 million more in new revenues anticipated in the budget year that begins July 1, 2013.

"It's very ominous. And I don't say that to be negative. I say that because I think the people of Utah need to be aware of that," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said after the meeting. "This is not easy stuff. These are not easy decisions."

While $100 million in revenue growth is "a lot of money," Lockhart said, it's only about one-third of what's going to be needed next year — and that's before lawmakers even consider adding anything new to the budget.

"Where are we going to find that money? We're not a tax increase Legislature," the speaker said.

She said the federal budget impasse in Washington could end up affecting Utah's bottom line.

"We have to be really careful about what we're planning, what we're doing, what the expectations are in this next fiscal year because there's so many unknowns in the economy, which drives the revenue," Lockhart said.

Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said after the meeting that lawmakers need to be cautious about making any spending commitments too early in the budget process, including funding growth in school enrollment.

The price tag for the more than 13,000 new students expected to show up for school next fall is $75 million. Another $30 million would be required to fund a statutory rate change in the voted and board leeway programs to accommodate the new students.

All that is on top of the $25 million lawmakers need to add to the public education budget to make up for a shortfall that resulted from a miscalculation by the Utah State Office of Education.

Hillyard said, too, that state employees will need about a 3 percent pay increase just to keep up with projected increases in health insurance and retirement plan costs. The price of employee health insurance is expected to go up about $35 million, and participation in the state retirement plan likely will cost about $45 million more.

"We just have to wait probably until the last minute to see exactly how much revenue we have," Hillyard said, to avoid overestimating how much money will be available and having to make cuts later. "It's going to be interesting."

He said revenue projections will be announced in early December, and Gov. Gary Herbert will release his budget later that month. Final revenue estimates are made in February, toward the end of the legislative session.

House Minority Leader-elect Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said she hopes some of the state's other needs won't be overlooked, including $55 million for capital improvements and maintenance that has been deferred in recent years.

"Our job as Democrats in particular is to make sure that all the needs are evaluated equally, even those needs that are articulated typically from voices that aren't as loud," Seelig said, "nor as flashy."

Also on the list of proposed budget increases Tuesday was more than $18 million to cover the cost of more state prisoners in local jails at higher rates, as well as some $114,000 for juror, witness and interpreter expenses in the courts.

No action was taken on the reports given to the committee to outline the key factors impacting the budget that will be set early next year by the 2013 Legislature.

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