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Utah legislators have completed approval of a series of safety-net "base budgets," designed to prevent the sorts of shutdowns the federal government suffers when Congress and the president cannot agree on spending.
For example in 2013, the federal government curtailed most routine operations for 15 days amid spending fights, furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers. Utah, at the time, managed to reopen national parks in the state by guaranteeing to cover their costs to help local tourism.
The Legislature avoids such shutdowns by requiring passage of bare-bones spending bills essentially the same budget as the current year by Day 16 of the 45-day Legislature, which was Tuesday.
That rule was developed after former Gov. Olene Walker and legislators had a confrontation over an extra $15 million she wanted for an early reading program. When it was not included in last-day plans, she threatened to veto the entire budget.
Lawmakers gave her the money, but came up with the new budgeting system to avoid such situations in the future.
The Legislature will decide later how to spend a projected $248 million or so in extra revenue this year. More exact estimates are due later this month.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said handling enrollment growth for public school students and a pay raise for state employees may take almost all of that money.
But he said the state still has hundreds of millions of dollars in requests for other new spending. "I don't think we're going to give anyone encouragement that the floodgates are opening," based on revenue projections so far, he said.
Stevenson also said that as legislators scrubbed budgets from last year for the base budget bills, they found $30 million to $35 million they may allocate elsewhere this year.
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee released an early draft of its budget priorities on Tuesday, showing more than $185 million in funding requests.
Those include $64 million to address enrollment growth in public schools and a 1 percent increase in per-pupil spending, at a cost of roughly $30 million.
The Utah Board of Education had requested a 2.5 percent increase in per-student dollars, which is understood to be the minimum required by school districts to maintain current funding levels.
Lawmakers were optimistic the final budget would see higher levels of per-student spending.
"I'm positive it will be more than 1 percent," said Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.