As the legislature moves into its subsequent weeks of debate and bill passage, a great deal of attention is being paid to education programs and funding. As the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met on Thursday morning to finalize budget requests and priorities, lawmakers appeared to follow a national calling for changes to the education system.
But these reforms can cost real money, and the source of these funds appears to have morphed into a debate about the national deficit.
Ben Leischman, the committee’s fiscal analyst, prepared recommendations for action, and clarified for the committee, via Representative Mike Kennedy (Republican-Alpine), the process involved. He indicated that even if a bill passes, funds aren’t necessarily allocated to implement the measures being codified. The final funding effort is left to the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee to decide how and when the actual funding will occur.
Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful) issued what may be a foreshadowing of the anti-federal government debate to come. “We’ll be having a conversation, I think later this session, about federal funds related to other programs,” Nielson said, “[t]hese federal funds, as a portion of the whole, are… significant, as a portion of all education funding statewide?” Leischman responded, “Generally it’s about 10% to 12% each year of the total budget.”
Nielson continued, “The revenues, or the sources that backs these funds, I assume that’s the same source that backs all federal funds.” Senate Committee Chairman, Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) interjected “…including Medicaid expansion. They print it though, so there’s an endless supply.” Nielson persisted, “This is the [money] that’s printed, not borrowed. OK. I just wanted to make clear that I believe that those of us here will willingly say yes in this case and there will be firm, significant debate on accepting in other cases. “
“We are consciously dependent on it, and we have regularly accepted it. And, uh, perhaps we should keep the entire picture in mind as we consider other factors as well,” Nielson concluded.
This appears to be a not-so-veiled reference to Governor Herbert’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low income Utahns who would not otherwise be covered. This expansion has been the source of consternation for many conservatives on the hill that worry that the federal funds will dry up after three years and that the state will be left holding the bill.
And while the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously to send their spending recommendations to the executive committee, the hearing seemed like a dress rehearsal on paper, to be played out over the remainder of the legislative session.
To hear more, click here to listen to an audio extra.