SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature has $10 million less to spend than anticipated, according to the latest revenue estimates released Monday.

"It’s not necessarily great, but it could have been worse," House Budget Chairman Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, told members of the House in announcing the consensus revenue numbers that will be used to finalize the state budget.

The shortfall is in sales taxes and other revenues that go into the state's general fund, now expected to be $53 million less than projected. Income taxes, which go to the education fund, however, are now supposed to come in $43 million higher.

Sanpei said lawmakers will still have a total of $550 million more available than last year. That's $150 million in surplus funds that can be used for one-time expenses and $400 million in ongoing revenue growth.

The budget chairman cited falling severance taxes on oil and gas extraction in the state, as well as a downward trend in sales, corporate income and capital gains tax collections.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said with record low crude oil prices creating volatility in the stock market, he had prepared for revenue estimates to drop "by a lot more."

The speaker told members of the House to keep in mind there is about $1 billion in requests for new spending this session and they need to "respond accordingly" now that they know how much is actually available.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called the new numbers "optimistic but conservative."

"We expect that Utah’s economy will continue to grow as we work to manage our revenues and expenditures judiciously," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert offered an upbeat appraisal of the new numbers.

"The revised revenue numbers released today show overall growth in income throughout the state with the exception of declining prices, primarily in the energy sector," he said in a statement Monday.

The governor, who proposed a $14.8 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1, said the state's "continued commitment to fiscal conservatism positions us well as we make critical budget decisions in the weeks ahead."

Lawmakers have already approved base budgets that basically continue current funding levels into the new budget year. Before the session ends March 10, they will approval additions to the fiscal 2017 budget, as well as uses for the surplus funds.

House members were warned earlier in the session that the state could see the first drop between December and February revenue estimates in both the general and education funds since 2010.

Monday's news was not that bad. In February 2015, lawmakers dealt with a slight drop in general fund revenue estimates that was offset by an increase in the growth expected in the education fund.

David Crandall, chairman of the Utah State Board of Education, said the new estimates bring “good news in general” for education in the state, though the numbers likely won’t change how education funding needs are prioritized this year.

“I don’t think it will have much of an impact on where we’re headed or where we’re going to end up at the end of the session,” Crandall said.

Early recommendations from lawmakers prioritize $94 million to fund school enrollment growth, as well as $70 million for a 2.5 percent increase to the weighted pupil unit, Utah’s formula for equalized school funding distribution.

But other requests from the State School Board, such as school technology and teacher professional learning, may not be fully funded as K-12 schools continue to share the education fund with Utah’s colleges and universities.

Last year, 15 percent of the education fund went to higher education.

“We’d like to see as much of the education fund spent on public (K-12) education as possible,” Crandall said. “When we put our budget together, there was enough money in the education fund to cover all of the requests if all of the education fund money was spent on public education."


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