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Legislators resolve remaining budget issues

Published March 7, 2012 9:39 pm

Budget • Decisions provide state workers raises, fund roads.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a flurry of last-minute activity, Utah House and Senate leaders agreed Wednesday to spend about $47 million to douse budget hot-spots before they adjourn Thursday.

"We're pretty happy with what we've done," Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said.

Most notably, legislators have approved a 1 percent pay raise for public employees on top of covering their health care and retirement increases. The pay raise was a major priority for Gov. Gary Herbert as budget negotiations wound up.

Legislators also cut a deal on how to pay for a list of road projects without having to borrow any additional money through state bonds and actually will reduce the state's authorized debt by $130 million.

Lawmakers found enough to put money into computer testing in schools, to lock up state inmates in county jails and to expand language dual-immersion programs for about 1,000 students in 23 public schools.

The late deals on several sticking points were made possible in part by an online sales tax bill that will bring in an estimated $6 million next year and by senators agreeing to set aside less in the state's Rainy Day Funds than they had wanted.

There will still be $11 million dedicated to the Rainy Day Funds, which had fallen from $420 million to $230 million during the recession.

"We spent a lot of money this year," Jenkins said, noting that lawmakers blew through $440 million in additional revenues in setting the budget. "You get down to the tail end and you have to make deals to keep everyone happy. … There were a few items that I would have nixed."

Lawmakers must pass the final budget bill Thursday, the final day of the session.

They have agreed to fund the 12,500 new students entering public schools and increased the per-pupil spending by 1.15 percent, which should cover the increase in health and retirement for teachers, but not provide a pay raise, although it will be up to school districts to set salaries.

The lone remaining issue is whether the Senate will agree to a two-year pilot program to provide health coverage to young children with autism.