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Medicaid not the budget-buster it's said to be

Unveiling his spending plan for 2013, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert this week said Medicaid consumes 17.6 percent of the state’s budget, hurting its ability to fund other critical services like education.

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But this is only partially true.

Herbert's calculation is based on all government spending, including federal funds that Utah has little discretion over.

Looking just at Utah tax revenue, Medicaid's share of the budget pie is much smaller: less than 8 percent of the General/Education Fund.

It's an important distinction, because while Utah can decide how to spend it's own money, federal funds come earmarked for particular purposes.

The federal government picks up about 75 percent of Utah's Medicaid tab – it's wrong to suggest we could be spending that on other priorities.

That said, Herbert wants the feds to turn Medicaid into a block grant, thereby giving Utah more power to spend the money as it sees fit.

In addition, Medicaid is growing and using up more state dollars - up to 9.8 percent under Herbert's budget.

This hasn't hurt spending on public schools. But higher education has taken a hit. It's share of state revenue is set at 13.5 percent in 2013, down from 16.4 percent in 2006.

-- Kirsten Stewart

Twitter: @kirstendstewart

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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