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Federal Funds: The Largest Share Of State Budget

Utah’s dependence on federal funds has declined since 2010, according to a new report by the state auditor.

Every year State Auditor John Dougall is required to scrutinize the federal dollars that state agencies use. It’s the state’s largest single funding source – more than sales or income taxes -- and it’s going down in the short term.

“The number we published this year was 23 percent of total state expenditures come from the federal government,” says Dougall. “That’s about $4.3 billion dollars.”

Federal dollars accounted for around 30 percent of Utah’s expenditures just five years ago. But Dougall points out that the long-term trend over three decades is upward.

And that’s concerning to many Utah leaders, especially after the federal shutdown two years ago. Legislators have created a federal funds risk calculator. It shows how the uncertainty of federal money can affect specific Utah programs like public education, transportation, jobs and social support services.

Dougall says accurate, reliable data helps decision makers navigate the important issues of the day.

“Medicaid expansion is a big debate, and one of the issues they’ve talked about is how much money is coming from the federal government and whether or not that money’s going to be there long term,” he says. “And I think that’s important information as part of those debates.

Lawmakers will be considering the federal funds audit as they begin hammering out next year’s budget in a few weeks.

Dougall says the flow of federal dollars affects every Utahn, although some see the impacts more than others.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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