Utah governor’s new budget focuses on ‘investing in our people,’ with money for infrastructure and education
The Great Salt Lake, affordable housing and education are some of the top priorities in Gov. Spencer Cox’s new budget proposal.
Standing at the Antelope Island Visitors’ Center Tuesday morning — overlooking a dwindling lake — Cox said he reflected on the past while crafting his budget this year.
“We are the beneficiaries of incredible sacrifices and decisions that were made,” he said. “It's led me to ask the question, ‘What are the sacrifices that we're making today to make sure that 50 years from now, those that are coming after us have the opportunity to … say we have the best economy in the country, and we have a very high quality of life and we have enough water to do the things that we need to do?’”
Cox said the guiding principle of his plan is “investing in our people.” The recommendations also include paying down the state’s debts.
With the context of this year’s historic drought — and the striking image of the dried up lake in the background — Cox proposed investing around half a billion dollars in water infrastructure and conservation efforts.
That includes around $50 million specifically for the Great Salt Lake.
“The Great Salt Lake is an indispensable natural resource, and we must protect this lake and the wetlands that surround it,” he said.
There’s also funding for the continued restoration of Utah Lake.
Tax Credits and Housing
Cox said low and middle-income families will see more money for their groceries with a $160 million refundable grocery tax credit.
He called it a middle ground between an income tax cut and removing the tax on food altogether and said it will help ease the burden of inflation on household budgets.
“You don't have a choice whether or not to buy food,” he said. “As food taxes go up, you still have to pay for food. We believe this is a much better way to return money to those people who need it most here in our state.”
The proposal also calls for $100 million to be invested in affordable housing throughout the state as well as $128 million specifically for deeply affordable units to combat homelessness.
Cox recommended a $556.5 million investment into K-12 education. That includes a 5% increase in the weighted pupil unit and eliminating school fees, like for classroom supplies.
“We know that school fees are a significant burden on families,” said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. “When they go to get their kids signed up for classes in high school, they're hit with a pretty significant check oftentimes.”
The administration estimates it will save families $55 million annually.
The proposal pushes $420 million for higher education. Some of that will go toward supporting technical education and rural community colleges to help retrain workers and gain new skills.