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Lawmakers tying up loose ends in budget

Published March 6, 2012 8:21 pm

Budget • A couple of major sticking points remain.
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The Utah Legislature has tied up most of the loose ends in its $13 billion-plus budget for the coming year, although disagreements over road construction funding and an autism insurance program linger.

The House and Senate advanced several budget bills Tuesday, allocating more than $1 billion for the current and upcoming budget year. The measures could see final passage Wednesday.

"We've basically run out of money," said Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. There are some attempts to shuffle money around, but the bulk of the budget decisions are done, he said.

"No matter where you draw the line, it's never enough," he said.

Audry Wood, executive director of the Utah Public Employees Association, said she has heard from state workers disappointed they will go another year without a pay raise. Gov. Gary Herbert had recommended a 1 percent pay hike.

"State employees have been very, very patient. It's been four years and we support the governor's budget, because we know he had good intentions for the state employees," Wood said. "They also need to recognize they have a lot of power and if they don't like how their pay and benefits were handled this session, they can change it by going to their caucuses."

Under Utah's system, the political parties will hold caucuses next week to pick delegates to state conventions, where nominees will be chosen.

Hillyard said that legislators decided to cover the increased retirement and health care costs of state employees and educators, rather than put more money into salaries. That means about $10 million going to state employee compensation and a 1.15 percent increase in state money going to school districts.

"What we're trying to do is make sure they don't lose any money," he said.

Two major disagreements remain between House and Senate Republican leaders.

The House is pushing hard for a pilot program to cover children with autism. And senators are wrestling with a $130 million bill to bond for road construction. Hillyard opposes more bonding and wants to pay down the debt. GOP senators met in a long closed caucus Tuesday for a "very lively discussion" of the roads package, but Hillyard said there was no resolution.




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