-By Elisabeth Luntz
Earlier this week, Governor Herbert rolled out $16.1 billion in budget recommendations for 2018 and 2017 supplemental spending at the Utah Highway Patrol field office in Murray .
Governor Herbert used the media opportunity to honor and reward UHP officers for successfully increasing efficiencies within their department. The efficiencies, he stressed, aren’t seen in the budget, but are significant because they represent a decrease in state expenditures and savings for taxpayers.
For an example, Herbert cited the Utah Highway Patrol’s Salt Lake County division, which had changed some documenting procedures and cut down paperwork for processing DUI arrests. In the last year, the processing for these offenses was reduced from 3 hours to 1, resulting in 5,000 more hours of patrol time, 200 more arrests of impaired drivers in a year, and 4,700 more vehicle stops for enforcement when compared to 2015. From a public safety viewpoint, this move coincided with a 26 percent reduction in fatalities on Utah highways since 2000.
To bolster these efficiency efforts, Herbert is requesting a slew of budget items for the department. These include:
- $1.5 million to increase UHP trooper pay.
- $680,000 for upper career movement opportunities for officers within the department.
- $1 million in new spending for safety equipment (which was unspecified but will include some funding for body cameras).
- $750 million for crime lab evidence management.
- $7.6 million in compensation for correction officers.
- $654,700 for the Board of Pardons for tracking purposes.
- $1.5 million for jail reimbursement and jail contracting expenses.
Extending the context of these efficiencies, the governor also emphasized the resulting smaller, per-capita government workforce; down from 1 for every 134 residents to 1 for every 150, which represents a 12 percent reduction in overall cost to taxpayers.
In all, the governor’s entire 2018 budget recommendation requests a proposed $400 million increase over the current fiscal year with no tax increases, no increased debt and no additional bonding. These are the factors that please budget managers from the state level, where a balanced budget is required by law, to the Utah household often struggling within the nation’s economy.
One major source of “new” revenue is better enforcement of the internet sales tax by working with online retailers such as Amazon. Opponents to the deal say this prevents state and local governments from taxing a seller that has no physical presence and no political voice in that jurisdiction—which they say is a clear case of “‘taxation without representation.” Government proponents of the online tax solution indicate that in reality, their solution keeps taxing authorities like the Utah Tax Commission accountable to those they tax. They point out that it is the seller, not the buyer, who is the taxpayer in an online transaction. The seller ultimately pays the sales tax to authorities [once collecting it from the consumer] and is then subject to potential audits. ”The governor’s office estimates that Utah loses $200 million annually from online sales.
The governor’s budget also includes a $100 million line item request specifically for the state prison move, which the state legislature authorized during the 2016 session. This expenditure represents construction funds for development that has already begun. The budget also requests $80-$81 million of “one-time money” designated primarily for prison construction and $552 million designated for the state’s rainy day fund” that is occasionally tapped for shortfalls in other areas.
Governor Herbert indicated that the revenue forecast is down $100 million from last year and is expected at $287 million new, ongoing revenue, 79 percent of which he proposes to direct to public and higher education. That education portion translates to $425 million in ongoing revenue (over a 2-year total) toward a 5 year, $1 billion investment in grades K-12. Utah’s enrollment growth corresponds to the state’s economic success which brings an expected increase of 10,100 new students. “That’s like a city the size of Cedar Hills or Bluffdale entering the school system every year,” the Governor said. Also, a one-time, $9 million request for teacher supplies addresses a recurring problem for Utah educators and parents. A 4% increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU) is built-in by the Governor thus allowing local school districts to designate their own, local spending priorities for a second year in a row. Finally, in the education proposal is a 2% compensation increase for higher education and $67.5 million in general funding, including incentives and scholarships.
Utah’s enrollment growth corresponds to the state’s economic success which brings an expected increase of 10,100 new students. “That’s like a city the size of Cedar Hills or Bluffdale entering the school system every year,” the Governor said. Also, a one-time, $9 million request for teacher supplies addresses a recurring problem for Utah educators and parents. A 4 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU) is built-in by the Governor thus allowing local school districts to designate their own, local spending priorities for a second year in a row. Finally, in the education proposal includes a 2 percent compensation increase for higher education and $67.5 million in general funding, including incentives and scholarships.
Under current law, 32 percent of sales and use tax revenue growth for FY 2018 is pre-allocated, or “earmarked” for use on projects and services – because of this, critics argue, the budget is not fully transparent to the public, but instead requires keen fiscal and legislative knowledge to discover where funds are being spent.
Generally speaking, earmarked funds have been set aside for water and transportation projects. Earmarks have become increasingly popular by lawmakers over the past 20 years and the state has seen a 1,500 percent increase in earmarks since 2000.
Before concluding his budget presentation, the Governor addressed environmental investments by the state which include $4.4 million in water conservation rebates and advertising for that benefit, a $500,000 investment in water-saving technology at state facilities, $123,000 allotted to algal bloom research (often known as “nutrient pollution”) and a $4.5 million investment in water-use data and metering technology.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality also got a nod with a $1.4 million appropriation request for air quality monitoring, $32 million in clean air mitigation funding pursuant to the Volkswagen settlement, (although funds aren’t expected to be available to the state until 2018). $250,000 has been set aside for air quality research as requested by DEQ.
Now that the Governor has made his case for his funding priorities, his budget proposal moves on to the legislature for its consideration. The legislature, in turn, is under no obligation to approve any or all aspects of the proposal and could cut a new budget from whole cloth. The discussions around the final 2018 budget will formally begin when the legislature convenes January 23 and, by state law, lasts for 45 calendar days.