Utah’s nearly $28 billion budget is in the books. What did lawmakers spend Utahns’ money on this year?
As always, one of the biggest parts of the budget is funding public education. Legislators pat themselves on the back this year for boosting the basic unit of per-pupil funding, known as the “weighted pupil unit” or WPU, by a whopping 13% from ongoing funds and 18.5% in one-time money. That’s not quite accurate.
In reality, legislators did increase funding for the WPU by $239 million in the FY2024 budget, which is a 6% overall increase. By statute, legislators are required to cover any cost increases from inflation and enrollment growth, which accounted for 3.4%, or $135 million of the 6% increase. The remaining 2.4% boost, or $104 million, was a discretionary increase.
Legislators have tried to include the $6,000 salary increase for public school teachers as part of the overall WPU increase, but that is technically not per-pupil funding.
Legislators also set aside an additional 2% WPU increase, but that will only be added to the budget if voters approve a change to Utah’s constitutional earmark for education funding on the 2024 ballot.
This year, lawmakers also appropriated $2.1 billion for transportation, including $800 million to fund various projects for the Utah Department of Transportation.
“When I think about the impact that’s going to have on the state for the next 20 years, it’s remarkable,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Friday during an end-of-session press conference
“I believe we’ll set the state up going forward never to have to bond again, and I think that’s exciting,” House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, added.
The budget also includes more than $450 million in ongoing and one-time funding for water conservation projects and for the preservation of the Great Salt Lake.
As the final budget bill zipped through the House and Senate on Friday before the evening dinner break, the only “no” vote came from freshman Rep. Quinn Kotter, R- West Valley City. Kotter explained his opposition during a floor speech about the state relying too much on federal funding.
“Are we too dependent? Are we complicit in allowing the federal government to break the Constitution if we take that money? I’ve thought for a long time how much better off we would be as a state if we could fund the budget on our own,” Kotter said.
House rejects bill meant to encourage safer syringe use
A bill that would have encouraged the use of syringe exchanges over sharing needles and discarding them on the street was rejected in the Utah House on Friday afternoon.
Syringe exchanges have been legal in Utah for nearly seven years, but participants in those programs can still get in legal trouble if they “possess with intent to use” the needles given out to them.
Freshman Sen. Jen Plumb’s, D-Salt Lake City, SB122 would have created an “affirmative defense” for those stopped by police who have obtained such drug paraphernalia from an exchange. It passed unanimously out of the Senate earlier this session.
“If someone were to commit a gun crime, and then they were not supposed to have that gun, but they had stored it in a safe or put it in a gun lock, just because they’re storing it safely we don’t change the charge,” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, before voting “no.”
The bill failed with a vote of 30-42.
Utah may get a state mushroom. Here’s why.
Utah is one step closer to having a designated state mushroom.
House Bill 92, lobbied for by Utah fungi and mushroom groups, would designate the porcini as the state mushroom if signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, sponsored the bill. Watkins told The Salt Lake Tribune in early January that the Facebook group Mushrooms of Utah — who’d created an online petition — was “ready to sell the bill.”
Ashley Simon, the president of the group, also explained the group’s choice of species.
”Because they make up so much of the biomass that our forest trees are growing in, they’re in 50% of the soil, that’s a huge indicator of forest health,” she said.
Simon said the bill will do more than give Utah another state object. “By having a state mushroom, we can bring attention to the fungal kingdom and get more support and attention paid to this critical part of our ecosystem.”
Transgender children under 16 won’t be able to change the sex designation on birth certificates with this bill
If signed by the governor, transgender children under 16 in Utah will not be permitted to change the sex designation on their birth certificates.
The legislation, SB93, was proposed by Sen. Dan McCay and prohibits an individual from petitioning the court to grant a sex designation change if the child is under 15 and a half, and doesn’t let a court change a child’s sex designation until they’re 16 years old. Only birth certificates issued in Utah would be impacted by the law.
Permission from the child’s parent or guardian is also required for any changes, as is evidence showing the child is capable of making decisions independently and that they are “mature and capable of appreciating” the implications of the change.
The original version of the bill banned sex designation changes on birth certificates from taking effect until an individual was 18 but was substituted to 16 years old so changes could be reflected on a driver’s license application.
Another bill passed the Legislature on Friday prohibits public schools from participating in an athletics association that does not collect athletes’ birth certificates during registration.
The proposal, HB209, was added to a bill sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, that allows a private school, home school, online school or charter school student to join extracurricular activities outside of their public school of residence.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, who sponsored last year’s legislation banning transgender girls from competing in school sports, proposed a bill this year creating the same requirement, but her legislation has yet to make it through the Senate in the session’s final hours.
Public library employees will need a background check if Gov. Cox signs this bill
Earlier this week, the Utah Legislature passed Logan Republican Rep. Dan Johnson’s House Bill 284, which will require public library employees across Utah to get criminal background checks.
If signed by Gov. Spencer Cox, the legislation would “prohibit a public library from receiving state funds unless the library implements a policy providing for criminal background checks of employees” and would go into effect on July 1, 2024.
The bill specifies that Utah’s smallest counties, designated fifth- and sixth-class by population, be given financial assistance for paying for background checks. The sixth-class counties in Utah are Daggett, Piute, Wayne and Rich; the fifth-class counties are Garfield, Beaver, Kane, Grand and Emery.
Rebekah Cummings, the advocacy co-chair for the Utah Library Association and chair of the Utah State Library Board, told The Tribune that last year’s version was “problematic,” and she gives Johnson credit for rewriting it.
”Libraries have always been a very safe place for people to go,” Cummings said. “We really pride ourselves in being one of the spaces where people can come with their families. ... I’m in no way opposed to putting policies in place to ensure that [libraries] stay safe.”
[READ: Lawmakers make their final recommendations for Utah’s $28B budget]
[READ: ‘Historic’ tax cut, social media regulation, abortion restrictions. What lawmakers decided on March 1.]