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The Utah House approved Wednesday a proposed grand compromise to end a fight over whether a huge slice of transportation money should be shifted to education and/or water projects.
"Everybody wins," Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. The deal proposes to give some money to education and some for water but retain enough for transportation to keep currently programmed projects on track.
It was incorporated into SB80, which the House passed on a 48-16 vote. Because of the changes, the bill was sent back to the Senate for consideration.
Gov. Gary Herbert started the debate on the matter this year when he proposed giving education more money by cutting $10 million from transportation funds the first year, $20 million the second, $30 million the third, and so forth until $50 million a year was transferred, which would continue thereafter.
Adams later introduced SB80 to instead use that same pot of money for water projects, possibly including the controversial Lake Powell pipeline for the St. George area and dams to develop Bear River water for northern Utah.
Then Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, introduced HB296 to move the same pot of money to the general fund, where it could be spent any way lawmakers desire.
Several lawmakers opposed moving money out of transportation just months after state gasoline tax was raised to help cover a shortfall in highway maintenance funds.
House Budget Chairman Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, amended SB80 so that it will transfer roughly the same amounts proposed by the governor out of the transportation fund.
It would shift $8.9 million the first year, and put it in the general fund where budget bills would spend it on public education.
The next year, $21 million would be transferred with $13.6 going to the general fund (likely for education), and $7.4 million into a restricted account for water.
Over seven years, the plan would transfer $172.2 million to the general fund where it would likely be spent on education. It would transfer $165.5 million into a special fund for water projects.
Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, told legislators that the transfers will not stall or halt any currently programmed projects.
However, he earlier told lawmakers it could delay some large projects that do not yet have firm start dates including extending the Mountain View Corridor freeway and building the proposed West Davis Corridor freeway.
But Adams said the compromise contains another mechanism to help prevent undue delays to those yet-to-be-scheduled future projects.
Currently, one of many earmarks in state law for transportation provides it a flat $90 million a year out of sales tax. The compromise would change that to a percentage: 3.68 percent of sales tax revenue beginning in 2019. Through 2023, that change will bring an extra $67 million back to transportation.
Adams hailed the proposed deal as a compromise that works for education, water and transportation.
"It's been hard to do," he said. "We've spent hundreds of hours during the session, and I think it's a great compromise."
House members who opposed SB80 on Wednesday mostly worried aloud about uncertainty over how water funds it diverts might be used.
Members who especially oppose the Lake Powell pipeline contending that improving conservation practices instead would be more wise and cost less said the new money going into a water fund may make that pipeline inevitable.