Utah’s budget for next year could be the largest ever at more than $25 billion

Despite a lot of extra cash, legislative leaders said they had great difficulty deciding what to fund.

Utah’s budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 will land somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion — the largest ever — and is a giant leap from last year’s $21.7 billion spending plan.

Coming into the 2022 general session, Utah’s coffers were bursting with an extra $1 billion in one-time cash and another $219 million in ongoing funds. February’s revenue estimates added another $865 million to that total. But even with that extra cash, there wasn’t enough to cover every request.

Consider the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee’s sifting through $492 million in requests for one-time funding, ultimately prioritizing $383 million. Legislative leaders funded just $44 million of those requests.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, described what he said was one of the most challenging budget years he’s ever been through.

“There was this perception when we started that we were all walking around with money falling out of our pockets. That brought everyone out of the corner that wanted a nickel,” Stevenson said.

When that list for priority funding became public late last week, lawmakers were surprised to see a number of their appropriations slashed, which led to some grumbling.

Stevenson explained budget leaders used seven “guiding principles” to decide what got funding. Those guidelines included whether or not the proposal aligned with one or more functions of state government, avoided a structural deficit, inspired innovation or improvement of government services and provided a long-term benefit for taxpayers. They also considered whether the proposal was duplicating something provided by another level of government or the private sector.

Not every request matched all of the guidelines but warranted further consideration if it met at least three of the seven.

Legislative budget leaders approved $29 million in ongoing funding requests and $1.13 billion in one-time spending.

On Thursday evening, legislative leaders added $5 million for pay increases for correctional officers, which is on top of the $15 million approved last week. The total $20 million, equal to a 3.5% pay increase, is still less than the $35 million pay boost recommended by an appropriations committee.

A majority of the one-time funding is for construction projects.

The biggest chunk is $1 billion for transportation infrastructure, which includes road construction and public transit. Although the list of projects is not yet available, the intent language for that funding says the money will be used on “various transportation infrastructure projects.”

The final appropriations bills will be made public sometime Friday before the House and Senate give their final approval.