With one week left in the Utah Legislature’s 2023 general session, Republican legislative leaders on Friday released final budget recommendations for the state’s coming fiscal year, allocating more than $5.1 billion for new spending requests and tax cuts.

The big winners this year? Water, housing and homelessness, education, transportation and taxpayers.

The highlights:

  • About $413 million in one-time money and $14 million in ongoing money for water conservation efforts
  • An increase to the education budget of $578 million in ongoing revenue and $339 million in one-time funds, a nearly 20% increase. That includes $236 million for a 6% increase to the weighted pupil unit
  • Over $198 million in new money for affordable housing and homelessness initiatives
  • More than $1 billion in transportation and transit improvements
  • $400 million in tax cuts, including $208 million to drop Utah’s income tax rate from 4.85% to 4.65%

The Executive Appropriations Committee released the final appropriations list Friday evening to set Utah’s roughly $28 billion total budget — the largest in state history — the 2023-2024 fiscal year. The list’s $5.1 billion in appropriations includes over $1.1 billion in ongoing spending and $4 billion in one-time funding.

The recommendations now go to the full Legislature, which is expected to fine tune and ultimately approve the budget in the final days of the session scheduled to end March 3.

“This year, we are making generational investments in housing, water, education and transportation,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “We are funding solutions to our growing state’s most pressing needs, and cutting taxes while looking ahead to avoid future pitfalls. We are providing immediate tax relief to Utahns at a time when they need it most. By making smart fiscal decisions, Utah’s economy will continue to remain steadfast.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told reporters earlier Friday that it would be a “banner year” for water as well as investment in other priorities including housing, education and transportation infrastructure.

Water conservation efforts and infrastructure in particular will see a “generational investment,” said House Budget Chairman Val Peterson, R-Orem.

“We will have a lot of funding for water across the state, not just for the Great Salt Lake, obviously,” Wilson said. “Everything from southern Utah and Washington County, some aqueduct resiliency, dam safety. ... A lot of money.”

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As economic tides shift, new revenue projections released earlier this week were essentially flat from estimates released at the end of 2022, meaning Utah lawmakers weren’t suddenly flooded with more money than they expected to spend in this year’s budget.

The Legislature also faced billions in funding requests that exceeded the amount available.

“There’s a theme through the budget: No one is getting what they ask for. No one,” Wilson told reporters. “But there’s a lot of important investments we’re making. There are just so many requests that out-scale the resources we have. But I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. These will be large numbers and large investments.”

Even before the 2023 session started, lawmakers set aside $400 million in tax cuts for Utahns. Mid-session, legislators settled on a tax reduction package that included about $208 million to drop Utah’s income tax rate from 4.85% to 4.65%.

The package outlined in HB54 would also expand the Social Security tax credit to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year, provide a tax benefit for pregnant women by allowing a double dependent exemption for children in the year of their birth, and increase the earned income tax credit from 15% to 20% of the federal tax credit.

Lawmakers’ $400 million package is much smaller — at least in one-time money — than Gov. Spencer Cox’s total $1 billion tax relief proposal that included $300 million in new, ongoing tax cuts, $574 million in one-time tax relief, and maintaining the expiration of the basic property tax levy freeze that’s scheduled to expire this year.

Lawmakers opted not to fund any one-time tax rebates the governor proposed. However, in terms of ongoing tax cuts, legislators’ tax package does cut deeper than the governor’s. Cox proposed only dropping the state’s income tax rate to 4.75%.

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Does the budget align with Utahns’ wishes?

Utah lawmakers started out the year with a $1.25 billion surplus. Revenue growth resulted in another $2 billion in one-time money and $2.4 billion in ongoing funds. After commitments lawmakers made in December, legislators had about $410 million in ongoing and $818 million in one-time funds available to spend after final revenue estimates were released earlier this week.

This year, education is again a top priority for Utahns, along with efforts to save the shrinking Great Salt Lake and address the record drought that continues to grip Utah and the West.

That’s according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, which asked Utahns how they’d like the Legislature to spend its budget surplus.

The largest segment of poll respondents, 32%, said they wanted lawmakers to increase spending on education. Next, 23% said to increase spending on drought mitigation, including the Great Salt Lake. About 18% said they’d want it spent on tax cuts, 10% said infrastructure, and 8% said to increase spending on social programs.

Only 4% said lawmakers should use it to increase Utah’s emergency savings, and 5% said they didn’t know.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 802 Utah registered voters from Jan. 23-30. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

Asked Friday about the poll results and how they align with how lawmakers have settled on the budget, Wilson said he believes the budget released Friday reflects the will of Utahns expressed in the poll.

“Utahns are very aware of the issues the state is working with and challenged with right now,” Wilson said.

What’s in Utah’s budget?

Here are some of the most noteworthy funding highlights:

Water 

  • $200 million for agricultural water optimization
  • $50 million for projects for water reuse and desalination in SB277
  • $30 million for water infrastructure projects
  • $25 million for agricultural water optimization loans for matching requirements
  • $25 million for dam safety upgrades
  • $15 million for secondary water meters
  • $10 million in one-time funds and $2.5 million in ongoing money for HB491, to enact the Great Salt Lake Commissioner Act and expand the Board of Water Resources to include an individual who represents the interests of the Great Salt Lake
  • $5 million in ongoing and $7 million in one-time funds for a cloud seeding program
  • $5 million for Utah Lake improvements
  • $2 million in one-time and $1 million in ongoing funds for Utah Water Ways, in HB307

Public Education 

  • $239 million for teacher salary increases
  • $236 million for a 6% weighted pupil unit increase, including a base budget increase of $132 million
  • $92 million for the Permanent State School Fund
  • $64 million for Educator Preparation and Collaboration Time
  • $50 million for the Small School Critical Capital Needs Fund
  • $30 million in flexible funding weighted pupil unit distribution to rural county schools
  • $25 million in ongoing money and $586,500 in one-time money for weighted pupil unit increase for at-risk students
  • $17.9 million in ongoing and $16.5 million in one-time funds for educator salary adjustments in SB183

Education programs

  • $75 million for flexible school safety, physical facility, and capital needs
  • $64 million for educator preparation and collaboration time
  • $25 million for optional full-day kindergarten expansion
  • $15 million for teen centers for students experiencing homelessness
  • $7.1 million for Grow Your Own Teacher and Counselor pipeline

Affordable housing and homelessness

  • $53.4 million in ongoing funds for the Utah Low-income Housing Tax Credit
  • $50 million for Adams’ bill to implement a first-time homebuyer program in SB240
  • $50 million for deeply affordable housing 
  • $12 million for homeless services dedicated funding 
  • $10 million for the Utah Housing Preservation Fund
  • $7 million for a Box Elder County crisis shelter and transitional housing
  • $5 million for attainable housing grants
  • $5 million for the Shared Equity Revolving Loan Fund
  • $4 million for affordable housing technical assistance
  • $2.75 million for the Rural Single-Family Home Land Revolving Loan Program

Transportation

  • $800 million for Utah Department of Transportation enhancements 
  • $200 million for commuter rail improvements
  • $150 million for Cottonwood Canyons transportation
  • $108 million for the Point of the Mountain
  • $88.5 million for U.S. 191 safety improvements
  • $40 million for rural roads, under SB175
  • $3 million for the Provo Airport terminal expansion
  • $10 million for the St. George Airport expansion

Mental Health

  • $6 million for the Huntsman Mental Health Crisis Receiving Center
  • $5 million for mental health resources for first responders
  • $1 million in ongoing and $1 million in one-time funds for mental health services for LGBTQ youth

Social Services

  • $25 million for Wasatch Canyons Behavioral Health Hospital
  • $12 million in ongoing funds and $12.5 million in one-time funds for victim services
  • $5.4 million in ongoing and $3.4 million in one-time money for jail contracting
  • $4.5 million in ongoing and $895,000 in one-time money for equal Medicaid reimbursement rate for autism
  • $3.9 million in ongoing and $977,300 in one-time for postpartum Medicaid coverage amendments
  • $3.5 million in ongoing and $1.8 million in one-time for services for people with disabilities waiting list
  • $3 million for domestic violence shelter-based support services
  • $1.7 million for medical loan repayment incentives in underserved areas
  • $1.4 million for caregiver compensation

Parks and recreation

  • $45 million for active transportation statewide trails network in SB185
  • $40 million for updating Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation Facilities
  • $15 million for the Antelope Island Visitor Center
  • $14 million for supplemental funding to complete the first phase of Utahraptor State Park
  • $10 million for Zion multimodal transportation infrastructure 

Other highlights

  • $60 million for the Utah Inland Port Authority infrastructure bank
  • $100 million for the Fort Douglas real property transfer for the University of Utah

$4 million for a long COVID clinic at the University of Utah
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated an incorrect total amount of new money set aside for affordable housing and homelessness initiatives, based on information that was circulated by legislative staff. It’s been updated to reflect the correct total, over $198 million.