A decade ago, Utah’s economy was slowly recovering from a recession.
State revenues were projected to grow by $263 million, but lawmakers had to use almost all of that income to fill a $300 million budget deficit. And even with more money coming in, the Legislature had to cut the budget from the previous year by 8.5%, deciding to spend $12 billion on the budget.
What a difference a decade has made.
This year’s budget has more than doubled from 2011-2012 to between $25 and 26 billion, powered by a booming economy and billions of dollars in extra revenue from higher than expected tax collections.
More than half Utah’s budget goes toward social services ($8.8 billion) and public education ($7.2 billion). The next biggest expenditure is for transportation at $2.65 billion.
One of this year’s largest single budget items is $1 billion for transportation construction and infrastructure. Legislators had a one-time opportunity to use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed by Congress to replace revenues in several budget areas, which allowed them to free up the extra cash for transportation.
Included in that transportation funding is $35 million for reimbursing local governments for construction on state highway projects and $75 million for additional double-tracking of sections the FrontRunner commuter train. An additional $75 million goes toward a future transit project at the Point of the Mountain that may include rail and bus rapid transit. There’s also $30 million to supplement pedestrian or non-motorized transportation projects in local cities.
Public Education saw a 9% funding boost this year, including a 6% increase in per-pupil funding. Despite that, Utah remains near the bottom in how much states spend on public education.
Other items in the public education budget include $12.2 million to expand optional all-day kindergarten, $64 million for professional development for teachers and more than $18 million for improving early literacy outcomes.
About $193 million in public education money was paid for an income tax relief package that mostly favors large families and higher-income Utahns.
There are several targeted pay increases included in the budget. Corrections officers will see $20 million for pay boosts and so will public safety officers. There’s also $3.2 million for workers at the state hospital.
State buildings are always a big-ticket item in every budget. This year’s spending plan includes more than $400 million in one-time funding for construction, including $25 million for development at the Point of the Mountain, $43 million to build a new campus building in Payson for Mountainland Technical College and $60 million for the University of Utah School of Medicine. Another $17 million will pay for relocating Fort Douglas.
Despite the extra funding, there still wasn’t enough to meet every need. The Legislature approved $55 million for affordable housing, far less than what advocates had requested. Another $15 million was approved to match private donations for preserving affordable housing units.
There are a number of arts programs that will receive some state funding, including $300,000 for the Hale Center Theater in Orem, $350,000 for the Utah Shakespeare Festival and $535,000 for the Tuacahn Center for the Arts.
Water conservation projects make up another big chunk of the budget. There’s $200 million for installing meters on secondary water systems, paid for by federal pandemic relief funding. Legislators added $40 million to preserve the Great Salt Lake and $60 million for renovating the marina at Bear Lake State Park.
Budgeters were also able to fund some local projects this year, setting aside $50,000 for the Days of 47 Rodeo, $1 million for both the St. George Musical Theater and Heber Valley Railroad. There’s another $1 million for Olympic event funding.