Legislative leaders have agreed with Gov. Gary Herbert to trim $70 million from the current year's budget, far less than legislators initially were targeting.
The reduction mainly spares public education any major cuts, save for a $1.3 million dent to a few programs. The consensus budget blueprint would tap about $86 million of Rainy Day Funds, leaving about $430 million in reserves.
"To be candid, this is a very, very difficult budget," said Senate budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. "I meet group after group that come up and make a very compelling case why their budget shouldn't be reduced."
Department heads and advocates were largely breathing easier at the numbers approved Tuesday by the Executive Appropriations Committee, but it could be short-lived, as lawmakers now looking to craft next year's budget were warning of what may come.
"We're telling everyone: Prepare yourselves. The cuts are for real," said House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara. "You might not have had to taste them this time, but they're coming."
Next week, lawmakers will receive updated tax revenues and budget projections that will provide the framework for the 2011 budget. Lawmakers have already begun crafting budgets with more than $200 million in reductions next year.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," House budget Chairman Ron Bigelow warned his GOP colleagues. "Wait until we get to 2011."
But Hillyard said that, by leaving much of the Rainy Day Fund in place, lawmakers will have a cushion in case the economy doesn't rebound quickly, as he is convinced it will not.
Coming into the session, the governor had proposed shaving $39 million from the current budget, while legislators were looking to slice far deeper, targeting $175 million in cuts.
Herbert "believes [the agreed-to cuts] can be implemented in a way that will not be detrimental to critical operations and programs provided by state agencies," said spokeswoman Angie Welling.
"Particularly, Governor Herbert applauds the decision not to impose additional reductions to public education in the current fiscal year."
The compromise means many of the cuts departments feared would be necessary will now be spared.
Chief among those sectors that avoided deep cuts is public education, which had been staring down an $84.5 million cut, and saw its budget shrink by just $1.3 million.
"For public education, this is really almost not a cut," Bigelow said.
Todd Hauber, state associate superintendent, said he's pleased with the agreement, which follows closely with what the State Office of Education proposed.
"To see the amount of reductions so much less than what we thought it would be is kind of like, 'I think we can do this,'" he said. "That's a really good message for the school districts and charter schools."
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is co-chairman of the education budget committee, said the funding "demonstrates a commitment on the part of the governor and Legislature to do everything we can to ensure that the education of our children goes forward despite the economic recession."
Utah colleges and universities took a $21 million reduction, but nearly all of that was covered by the 3-day furloughs that Herbert ordered in December, according to associate commissioner of higher education Dave Buhler.
Likewise, many other departments also covered the needed cuts through furloughs and hiring freezes that were already in place.
Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said her party is satisfied with the 2010 budget. "We're very concerned about the budget next year," she said, saying that targeted cuts to public and higher education and human services have her worried. "I think we're hanging on with our fingernails right now."