Pet projects board the Utah money train
Legislators scrounged up the money Wednesday for a slew of new projects, from a youth turkey show to a balloon festival on Antelope Island and from making a film about public lands to supporting the Sundance Film Festival.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said lawmakers went for the "mattress money" scraping together more than $9.5 million for last-minute hot-spots and priorities.
Among them were a handful of items, billed as economic development programs, some of which were considered low priorities by their budget committees, but high priorities for particular lawmakers.
Lawmakers agreed to spend $100,000 on the Hill Air Force Museum and another $100,000 on the Hill Air Show. And there will be $10,000 sent to the Youth Turkey Show, a project supported by Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, once again secured funding to bring the Utah Symphony to Taylorsville Dayzz, this time getting $20,000 to bring the orchestra to the neighborhood's July 4th festival.
The Antelope Island Balloon Festival, which will be held on the island again over Labor Day weekend, will receive $10,000 of support from taxpayers annually each year.
Half a million dollars will go to the Treehouse Museum, a children's museum in Ogden, which is a perennial favorite of House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden.
Dee said it makes sense to use taxpayer money for the various projects.
"Most, if not all of those, you can find an economic development reason to support. We do this every year," Dee said. "The balloon festival is a major attraction for Davis County and Antelope Island. â¦ People come from all over."
He said people pour into northern Utah for the Hill Air Show, creating a major economic draw for the region.
Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute, said that Utah politicians like to tout the state as an example of fiscal conservatism and limited government.
"These expenditures show that's not at all true," he said.
"It's especially troubling to observe conservatives yelling at the federal government for its bailouts and stimulus, and yet the same thing is being done in our own midst," Boyack said. "Utah is nothing more than a small-scale version of Washington, D.C., complete with crony capitalism and bloated government waste."
The Sundance Film Festival, which boasts that it generates $80 million of economic impact for the state, had asked for $2 million in taxpayer assistance, but received $500,000.
There was $50,000 for tourism in Bridgerland requested by Hillyard and $25,000 for economic development in Daggett County. Another $50,000 was earmarked for the Utah Summer Games, a request supported by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.
And there was $10,000 allocated for the Kearns Veterans Memorial, money requested by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City.
Other pet projects got funded earlier, including $200,000 to relocate a pioneer cabin and build a new museum in Henefer. The current museum is too cramped and doesn't have a restroom or cooling. The funds were requested by House Budget Chairman Mel Brown.
Taxpayers will throw $2 million behind the Utah Shakespeare Festival, $25,000 to the Moab Music Festival and $350,000 to the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City.