Utah’s economy continues to boom, but worker shortages, poor air quality and federal policies are risks

The state’s general obligation debt amounts to $719 for every Utahn.<br>

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) The Utah State Capitol.

Utah government agencies are pushing closer to the state constitution’s limit on the amount of debt they can take on at one time, according to a year-end state financial analysis by the state’s finance division.

Utah now has $3.87 billion in various kinds of debt and long-term liabilities. It owes nearly $2.2 billion in general-obligation bonds, or about $719 for every Utahn, according to the analysis released Tuesday, known as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The state can issue bonds equal to 1.5 percent of the total amount of taxable property in Utah.

Treasurer David Damschen said the state’s “general-obligation debt as a percent of the constitutional debt limit” is about 45 percent.

Legislators have increased debt in recent years through bonding to relocate the state prison from Draper to western Salt Lake City and for $1 billion in highway construction projects, both approved in the most recent legislative session.

“The prudent use of debt is critical for good governance,” state Auditor John Dougall, who campaigned for the office as a fiscal conservative known as “Frugal Dougall,” said in a statement. “I encourage policymakers to remember this as state government incurs higher debt loads to finance new infrastructure projects.”

The financial report, released the day the U.S. House voted to approve a $1.5 trillion tax bill that includes deep tax cuts for businesses, also lays out various risks to the state’s booming economy.

Nationally, the report says, “risks include changes to federal trade and fiscal policies, and geopolitical instability.”

President Donald Trump has highlighted international trade as a target for overhaul, saying the United States has gotten bad deals in past agreements overseas.

“At the local level, risk factors include the supply of workers, overall confidence in the economic future, and air quality issues,” according to the analysis. “Overall, Utah is expected to grow moderately barring any major disruptions to the national and global economies.“