The Utah Legislature presented a modified budget in an attempt to strike a careful balance between meeting immediate needs and preparing for the future during the Executive Appropriations Committee last week, according to a statement from the State of Utah.
Through a combination of targeted budget cuts and utilization of existing rainy day funds, the proposed, revised fiscal year 2021 budget puts Utah in a position to restart the state’s economic recovery and growth, according to state officials.
Following an unprecedented health crisis, the revised consensus revenue projects a deficit of $93 million in one-time funding and $757 million ongoing funding in the general and education funds in FY 2020-2021.
“The Utah Legislature is committed to keeping its commitment to increase funding for education. The current budget proposal includes a 1.8 percent increase to the weighted pupil unit, in addition to $50 million in enrollment growth funded in the base budget,” reads the statement. “Additionally, $125 million from the CARES funding will be allocated to bolster online education and access. Education funding would increase by 1.3 percent overall, not including the enrollment growth included in the base budget.”
The proposed budget also aims to increase social services overall by 5.4 percent. The legislature is looking at options to only reduce the state budget by 1.7 percent during the pandemic after using most of the state’s working rainy day funds.
“We are meticulously making short- and long-term decisions that will sustain the state today while we deal with the uncertainties of tomorrow,” said Senate President J. Stuart Adams. “The goal is to preserve social services programs and keep our commitment to the education community. I’m confident Utah will recover, and our economy will come back even stronger and more vibrant than before the pandemic, with new and better opportunities for Utahns.”
In addressing the fiscal impacts of COVID-19, lawmakers rejected the either-or paradigm of cuts or revenue increases. The state is taking a multi-pronged approach that includes the utilization of spending reductions, cash flow management, drawing a portion of the education rainy day fund, the general rainy day fund and the Medicaid rainy day fund, and budgetary reserves. Between long-term rainy day funds and working rainy day funds, nearly a third of the state’s reserve will be utilized, according to the state.
“We are beneficiaries of the careful planning and preparation of state leaders before us, and our aim is to continue that tradition,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson. “The choices we’re making about cuts to the budget are data-driven and are intended to help the state move into a rapid economic recovery. Additionally, we are approaching these decisions with a surgical mindset aiming to protect education funding and our critical social services programs while making important investments to accelerate our growth.”
“The budget shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic require state budget adjustments. Rather than making indiscriminate across-the-board cuts, legislators carefully and thoughtfully reviewed the budget and worked hard to limit or altogether avoid reductions in education funding, social services and essential programs,” said the statement.
Due to a strong economy and the record-low unemployment rate Utah enjoyed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is in an “enviable position nationally and has experienced a more limited downturn than other states,” according to the press release. “Additionally, Utah has retained its AAA bond rating and enjoys a robust set of rainy day funds. These budget contingencies have been carefully built for more than a decade and, thanks to these preparations, the state has multiple options available as legislators address budget issues.”