Final budget boosts school funding, gives state workers a raise

First Published      Last Updated Mar 03 2017 11:37 pm

Spending » The blueprint would provide half of the money needed for rape kits, recoup $1M subsidy for the lost Outdoor Retailer.

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.

» Next page... Single page