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Week 1: What Would You Do With $21,000,000,000?

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Austen Diamond for KUER
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One of the most common pieces of advice about personal finance is to make a budget. But we all know that there are SOME people out there (not you of course) who just never seem to make one. Well, the Utah Legislature doesn’t have the luxury of skipping that tedious task. In fact, making a budget is technically the only thing they are obligated to do during the legislative session.

Seriously, the only thing. Must be important, right? But, have you ever taken the time to learn how the state’s budget works? If you haven’t, don’t worry — Sonja and Emily are going to break it down for you in less than 15 minutes.

Guests:

  • Donna Law, Executive Director of Development and Government Relations at Southern Utah University
  • Matthew Weinstein, State Fiscal Policy Director at Voices for Utah Children

Interview Highlights:

On What A Budget Is:

Sonja Hutson: Let’s start with the very basics: what the heck is a state budget?

Donna Law: The state budget is how we balance tax collection with expenditures for the purpose that those taxes were collected. And the state of Utah always balances its budget during the legislative session, which is something that we don't see, for instance, in Washington, D.C., but something that we're very proud of here in the state of Utah.

SH: Lots of people have experience making and sticking to — or maybe not sticking to — personal budgets for their household. How is the state budget similar to a personal budget and how is it not so similar?

DL: Well, certainly the premise of a balanced budget — you want to make sure that you don't spend more than you have or more than you take in, right? You get a paycheck, you put that in the bank, and then you pay your bills and you want to have hopefully a little bit left over maybe to put in a savings account for a rainy day. And the state budget is very much like that. The difference is my personal household budget is not $21 billion.

On Budget Priorities:

SH: Where do you see the big differences between the governor's proposed budget and the legislature's priorities this year?

DL: You know, I think there's probably more likeness this year than there has been in other years because Spencer Cox actually came from the legislature before he was plucked to be the lieutenant governor. He understands that process. He actually understands the budget process from a municipality because he was a mayor, a city councilperson, a county commissioner. So, I think he probably sees things a little differently coming from that perspective. And the legislature acknowledges that along the way.

On Where The Money Comes From:

SH: So, lawmakers debate over how the money that comes in from taxes is allocated. What are the different streams of money that come in and where do they go?

DL: So there are really just two buckets of income. There's the general fund — that's where your sales tax goes to. And then there's the education fund, and the education fund is funded by income tax. All those moneys come into those two buckets and then they have to get redistributed.

Money-buckets-45-Days.jpg
Renee Bright
Each different type of tax paid to the state can only be spent in certain ways. Here's a breakdown of how where the money comes from for Utah's different funds and how it can be used.

On What’s Different In 2020:

SH: What does Utah's budget overall look like this year? Are there any big changes to it that are really shaking things up?

DL: I think probably the thing that is most different from this year is pandemic related, right? Last year, because of the pandemic, instead of having our tax deadline be April 15, the deadline was moved to July. That changed the cash flow situation — our state was very conservative in how they allocated funds. So, we have more money than we expected to for this session.

In particular, there's more one-time money, and much of that is a result of the stimulus payments that we all got. You know, we got that $1,200check, and we went out and spent it. I mean, in my part of the state, in Cedar City, we saw a lot more trailers and campers and little ATV RZR things. And so sales tax was actually higher than we expected it to be, so there's just a little bit more money than we expected. Therefore, there are lots of people — lots of entities — with their hands out saying 'can we have some of that back?'.

To see the state budget for yourself, check out the website mentioned by Donna Law: https://cobi.utah.gov/2021/1/overview

Bills Referenced:

Stories Referenced:

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.