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Utah’s $16B budget boosts school spending, state worker wages, Medicaid growth

First Published      Last Updated Mar 10 2017 02:50 pm

Utah received a bit of a windfall during the 2017 Legislature — projections that it would receive $100 million in extra revenue beyond earlier estimates.

So lawmakers added it to a $16 billion budget to help Utah schools, give state workers a raise, fund Medicaid growth and build new university buildings — among a variety of other projects.

Even then, lawmakers said money did not stretch quite far enough.

So they authorized bonding for $1 billion over four years to accelerate highway projects statewide, with the expectation that Interstate 15 along the Wasatch Front will see much of that money. And they approved borrowing $100 million more for the new state prison, bringing the total bonding allowed for that project now to $575 million.




The main budget includes helping 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.

Lawmakers earlier had proposed only a 3 percent increase in per-pupil spending — the same as last year — but were able to step it up because of higher-than-expected revenue. It now matches the 4 percent that Gov. Gary Herbert had recommended.

Combined with colleges and universities, public education would see an increase of more than $300 million this year, said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate's budget chairman.

"A big, big percentage of our budget has gone to education," Stevenson said, "more than normal."

School districts say a minimum 2.5 percent increase in per-student spending 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 districts for salary increases or other priorities.

The 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.

Final budget bills also fully fund growth in Medicaid for the poor and disabled.

Money for pricey building projects for colleges are authorized in the budget, including 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.

"I feel very good about this year's legislative session," said David Buhler, Utah commissioner of higher education. "We're pleased with where things have ended and we'll move forward from here."

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said paying for campus construction can be challenging, but is necessary.

"Our higher [education] system is going to have to absorb a lot more students in years to come," he said.

Additional education allocations include $10 million to build a Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind campus in Utah County, $3 million for elementary-reading software programs, $5 million to reimburse teachers for supplies and $2.6 million to cover educator-licensing fees.

In higher education, the budget features an $8 million boost 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.

The budget includes grants for museums and theaters — many of which sponsor dinners or other events for lawmakers.

Among those are $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.

 

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