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Utah's legislative budget writers decided Friday to use $100 million extra in revenue than previously projected to help Utah schools, give state workers a raise, fund Medicaid growth and build new university buildings among a wide variety of other projects.
That includes helping to fund a 4 percent bump in per-student education funding, plus $68 million to cover expected costs from seeing enrollment growth of 10,000 students next year for a combined increase of $120 million.
"That's huge," said Executive Appropriations House Chairman Dean Sanpei, R-Provo.
Lawmakers earlier had proposed only a 3 percent increase in per-pupil spending, but were able to step it up because of higher-than-expected revenue. It now matches the 4 percent that Gov. Gary Herbert had proposed.
"Our schools and teachers must have the funding and resources they need to provide students with a first-rate education," Herbert said in a prepared statement. "My budget proposal included a 4 percent increase in the WPU [weighted pupil unit], and I appreciate that the Legislature has adopted our recommendation."
School districts say a minimum 2.5 percent increase is needed just to cover inflation in retirement and health care costs. The remaining 1.5 percent roughly $45 million can be used at the discretion of local districts for salary increases or other priorities.
"To prioritize that new money for the WPU is just something that we're so grateful our Legislature has recognized," said Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews.
The new budget also includes a 2 percent pay raise for state employees.
On top of that, the budget has an additional 1 percent for corrections officers through a new career ladder program. Herbert had proposed that saying it is difficult now to attract and retain corrections officers because of low pay.
It also provides $860,000 for an extra increase in pay for Utah Highway Patrol troopers.
Sanpei said the budget will fully fund growth in Medicaid for the poor and disabled.
The spending plan also will pay for several important building projects for college campuses around the state, Sanpei said. Those include a $14 million renovation of the Weber State University Social Science Building; $8 million for the Dixie State University Human Performance Center; and $5 million for rehabilitation at the University of Utah Medical Education & Discovery/Rehabilitation Hospital.
The budget revealed a small silver lining to the state losing the $45 million Outdoor Retailer show because that group opposed Utah elected officials pushing to erase the new Bears Ears National Monument: the state saved $1 million by canceling a subsidy it had been giving to that show.
"There has been a divorce or an end to that relationship," said House Speaker Greg Hughes. "So we're ending the subsidy."
Other items in the budget include:
• $1.2 million to help process rape kits. That is only about half the estimated cost for extra technicians needed for the Utah Crime Lab to keep up with all rape kits collected each year.
• $350,000 to develop a class for legislators about federalism, the relationship between the federal government and the states pushed by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who often speaks at length about the issue.
• $500,000 toward suing the federal government over the Gold King Mine environmental spill that contaminated the San Juan River last year.
• $6 million to increase funding to implement the Justice Reform Initiative, which seeks to use more treatment programs to divert offenders from prisons.
• Additional education funding, including $10 million to build a Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind campus in Utah County, an additional $3 million for elementary reading software programs, $5 million to reimburse teachers for supplies and $2.6 million to cover educator licensing fees.
• Cutting $400,000 for a pilot program called Peer Assistance Review, a training and mentorship initiative aimed at retaining teachers.
The program was adopted by the Salt Lake City School District, with administrators saying that 77 percent of participating teachers remained in their jobs after four years. Statewide, more than half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years.
"Our state, which is facing a crisis of teachers leaving the classroom, would benefit from expanding the PAR program, not cutting it," Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said.
•In higher education, an $8 million increase to the Regents Scholarship, $3.5 million for enrollment growth, $3.1 million for student athlete graduation improvement and $7.2 million to mitigate tuition increases.
• Numerous grants for museums and theaters many of which sponsored dinners or other events for lawmakers during the session.
It includes $750,000 for the New Life Science Discovery Center at Thanksgiving Point; $500,000 for the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum; $200,000 for the Natural History Museum of Utah; and $75,000 for The Leonardo.
Also included was $100,000 for the Utah Shakespeare Festival; $70,000 for America's Freedom Festival in Provo; $175,000 for the CenterPoint Theater; and $100,000 to restore the Grantsville Donner Reed Museum.