Utah lawmakers have hammered out a broad budget agreement that includes a 2 percent increase in the state’s per-pupil funding, pays for the new students entering public schools, and gives a raise for highway patrol troopers and other state employees.
In addition to bumping up Utah’s last-in-the-nation per-pupil funding, the budget blueprint would fully cover the 13,254 new pupils expected to enroll in public schools next year.
There would be $7.5 million spent for extended-day kindergarten classes, $5 million to reimburse teachers who buy classroom supplies and $6.6 million to help classrooms prepare to administer computerized testing.
“Overall, I think it’s reflective of our requests and gets us kind of where we need to be,” said State Superintendent Martell Menlove.
The budget numbers, preliminary at this point, are the product of negotiations between House and Senate leaders. There are pieces still outstanding and changes are likely to be made before the March 14 end of the legislative session.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he shares most of the priorities with the House and Senate leaders, and expects education will come out on top this session.
“There’s always, you know, more demands than we have available money. That’s not unusual, that’s just always the last couple of weeks of the process,” Herbert said. “I’m very confident as we work together with the House and Senate and with the executive branch that we’ll come together on the optimal use of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
House Speaker Beck Lockhart acknowledged there may be some differences between the Legislature and governor..
“We know that the governor is probably going to have some items he wants to bring forward,” Lockhart said. “It’s a regular thing that happens at this time in the session.”
Lawmakers are working through how to spend $264 million in projected new and continuing revenue and $161 million in one-time spending as they complete work on the roughly $13 billion budget. Legislative leaders are planning to meet Friday evening to solidify most of the budget.
From a law enforcement standpoint, legislators are looking at hiring a new child-protection prosecutor and juvenile-court judge to help the overburdened staff in the Uinta Basin. It allocates $1.25 million for the Genesis Work Camp, a juvenile work camp in Draper and $130,000 for drug courts and about $1 million for Utah Highway Patrol trooper salaries.
“We’re redefining the entire corrections process to focus specifically on re-entry instead of on incarceration and really have an emphasis on how we help these people come out and be successful,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, co-chairman of the law enforcement budget subcommittee.
There is also $1 million set aside to fund the work of the prison relocation commission that would study relocating the Draper prison, even though Lockhart has said she would like to see that bill wait until a special session this summer.
House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, called Thursday’s budget blueprint “a start. It’s a beginning.”
She said she was disappointed that leaders have not found money to pay for extraditions of inmates that have to be done and funding for the Utah Sexual Violence Council. And, she said, Democrats want to see funding restored for community health centers — like the Fourth Street Clinic and others — which have seen cuts in recent years.
There are nearly $20 million in funding to comply with the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, including expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Other items in the tentative agreement include:
• A 1 percent pay raise for state workers;
• $6.5 million this year to add 20 slots to the University of Utah Medical School and $10 million next year for an additional 20.
• $54 million to build a classroom building at Utah Valley University and $29.3 million for a new Ogden courts building.
• Lockhart said there are no plans to borrow money through bonding to build new roads or buildings.