Utah has $29 billion to spend next year. Here’s how lawmakers are spending your taxes.

Lawmakers unveiled their “Bill of Bills” on Thursday outlining their final budget of the 2024 legislative session.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Legislative business begins at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. Lawmakers are expected to consider hundreds of bills over the 45-day period.

Utah lawmakers warned that there wasn’t much extra money to spend this year. Turns out, they meant it.

After weeks of haggling, bargaining and polite begging, the Executive Appropriations Committee approved the final budget items on Thursday afternoon, voting to spend an additional $9.2 million in ongoing funds and $68 million in one-time money.

The additional spending brings next year’s budget to more than $29 billion. Lawmakers will vote to approve next year’s spending plan before the Legislature adjourns on Friday.

Democrats expressed frustration about the tight budgeting process this year, especially when lawmakers found money to cut taxes and nearly double funding for the private school voucher program they approved last year.

“Given the very tight budget and the alarming number of things that have not been funded, this seems misguided at best,” Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said on Wednesday afternoon.

Of particular concern was the struggle to find money to fund programs to fight homelessness.

“We have the most robust economy in the nation. We hear that all the time. That has been the case for a number of years. And yet, we’re not getting our arms around this homelessness problem,” Dailey-Provost told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Addressing homelessness in Utah

Lawmakers did add nearly $40 million aimed at addressing the state’s homelessness problems, which is on top of the $11.7 million they approved last week.

The new funding includes $25 million to help construct low-barrier shelters, but the $33.9 million to fund their operation for three years went unfunded. There’s also $2.5 million to fund a local and state partnership to help cities mitigate impacts of hosting a shelter. Cities without a shelter will pay into the program and the state money will be used as matching funds.

Lawmakers added $11.8 million in one-time funding for a statewide grant program administered by the Utah Homelessness Council.

The nearly $60 million in appropriations is less than a quarter of what was requested to address homelessness this year.

School vouchers

After starting with a $150 million request, the Legislature will ultimately put another $40 million toward the Utah Fits All school voucher program. It has yet to launch — the program began accepting its first round of applications Wednesday.

Meanwhile, just over $35.5 million will go toward reducing fees for students in public schools. Cottonwood Heights Democrat Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who is a school teacher, unsuccessfully attempted to reroute some of the Utah Fits All money toward the student fees effort.

Gov. Spencer Cox’s youth service initiative, dubbed the UServe Fellowship Program, received $2 million in one-time funding to cover startup costs next year and an additional $1.3 million in ongoing funding.

Faith-based pregnancy programs

As they await a ruling on their abortion trigger ban, lawmakers gave a total of $400,000 in ongoing funding to two faith-based crisis pregnancy programs. A $245,000 grant program for the controversial anti-abortion centers wrapped into Sen. Chris Wilson’s SB147, “Adoption Revisions,” was also funded.

The Social Services Appropriations Committee initially proposed funding one of those programs using money from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Family grants. But the Executive Appropriations Committee opted for the state to fully fund the request after The Tribune reported that tens of millions in federal cash to help low-income families could be jeopardized by the move.

LGBTQ+ programs

It appears the state will not fund a request from the Utah Department of Health and Human Services to expand mental health care for LGBTQ+ Utahns who can’t afford it. That decision comes as lawmakers for the third year in a row imposed restrictions on the state’s transgender community.

Encircle, the LGBTQ+ Youth Resource Center, however, will get $300,000 to open a location in Logan.

U. presidential debate

After the University of Utah was selected to host a presidential debate in October, the state’s flagship school asked for $6.5 million to prepare its facilities to take on the high-profile event. While the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee whittled the request down to $2.4 million during the session, ultimately, the Executive Appropriations Committee did not give anything toward it.

Two politics-related college programs at Utah Valley University — the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative and the Gary R. Herbert Policy Institute — will get $1.5 million and $250,000, respectively. The first is under the university’s Center for Constitutional Studies, and the latter was founded by its namesake, the former Utah governor.

A plan to shift $50 million in unused federal COVID relief funding toward a hospital in Monticello and a children’s behavioral health facility in Salt Lake City was not approved by the federal government. Those funds will now be used for their original purpose to improve rural broadband.

Legislative leaders approved spending $50,000 for a membership with a group that wants to re-write parts of the U.S. Constitution. The Phoenix Correspondence Commission, led by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, aims to get enough states to sign on to hold an Article V convention where to propose and debate constitutional amendments.

Update, Mar. 1, 7 p.m. • The Legisalture’s budget proposal initially released by the Executive Appropriations Committee showed $8.2 million in funding for a homeless shelter in Davis County. Instead, those funds were allocated to a behavioral health program. Also, lawmakers revealed Friday that the total budget was now over $29 billion.