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Gov. Cox’s $28B budget has water conservation, affordable housing and labor on its mind

 Diedre Henderson, Spencer Cox, Utah state budget and housing, South Joran, Dec. 9, 2022
Curtis Booker
/
KUER
Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson, flanked by Gov. Spencer Cox at a housing development in South Jordan, addresses reporters about the critical need for strong mental health resources across Utah, Dec. 9, 2022.

Putting money back in the pockets of Utahns, water infrastructure and helping Utahns get into their first homes are at the forefront as Gov. Spencer Cox unveiled his budget recommendations for the 2024 fiscal year.

The governor previously highlighted his education and tax cut desires. Now, the rest of his $28.4 billion proposed budget tackles some of the biggest issues facing Utah, all of which are impacted by how fast the state is growing.

Even with a strong economy, Cox said he recognizes concerns over inflation and growth.

Recently, the Utah Population Committee along with Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released numbers showing Utah welcomed over 61,242 new residents in the past year, pushing the state's total population to just over 3.4 million people.

Housing

Gov. Cox answered reporter questions about the budget standing in a construction lot where new homes are being built in South Jordan.

He said housing availability has a strong influence on the state's economic outlook, and that there's a strong demand for housing from both new and young Utahns.

He's proposing a total of $150 million to make housing more affordable and accessible, including $15,000 in down payment assistance for educators and firefighters buying their first home.

The changes look to increase housing stock in both urban and rural communities.

Water

Securing Utah's water future could take a significant chunk of the budget –– something the governor says is critical to Utah's future.

A total of $561 million would be allocated to water-related investments and conservation efforts. Combined with last year's efforts, that's a $1 billion commitment to preserving Utah's water.

$132.9 million would go toward saving the Great Salt Lake, more than twice what was proposed a year ago. Great Salt Lake has been shrinking and recently hit record low levels.

Cox said Utahns have done a remarkable job at conserving water, about 9 billion gallons worth this year. However, most of the state is still in extreme or severe drought.

Employee Compensation

There's also a push to pay state employees more. State leaders say even with Utah's low unemployment rate, labor scarcity has impacted businesses’ ability to meet customer demand.

Cox recommends $34 million to increase state employee salaries and compensation, and another $38 million would go in part to salary increases for Division of Child and Family Services caseworkers.

Mental Health 

According to a Utah State University study, Utah was in the top 10 for suicide rates nationally in 2020.

The governor is recommending a total of $54 million go toward mental health resources, and an ongoing budget of $6.3 million would increase the number of Mobile Crisis Outreach teams.

Ultimately, it'll be up to the state legislature to approve the budget and decide where the money goes. The general session starts Jan. 17.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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