Updated 2:20 p.m. MT 3/14/19
Utah lawmakers on Thursday quietly axed a proposed $1.5 million in funding for a center honoring retired U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch after mounting public criticism.
At the final meeting of the Executive Appropriations Committee at the Capitol, the line item for Hatch had been placed in a red parenthetical on a list of funding requests, implying the money had been removed. Sen. Jerry Stevenson, the Senate budget chief, confirmed they nixed the appropriation.
The committee later approved a finalized $19 billion budget, which will be voted on by both chambers before the Legislature adjourns at midnight.
Utah House Democrats first flagged the Hatch money, which they say was concealed in the budget under the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. The institute was to house the temporary offices of the Orrin G. Hatch library as supporters raise money for a new building.
During debate over the budget on Tuesday, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, attempted to strike the line item and reallocate the money to clean air initiatives, including a project to incentivize more teleworking jobs in rural parts of the state.
“It will get cars off of our roads in the non-attainment areas, but it will also increase jobs in rural Utah, which is a win-win for everybody,” she said. “I think this is a much better use of the funding.”
House budget chair Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, resisted the maneuver, defending Hatch as an important figure in the state and to him personally.
“I want to point out that my political career started in 1981 when I did my first internship in Orrin Hatch’s office in Washington, D.C., when Ronald Reagan was president,” said Last. “So that’s the reason I’m going to oppose that part of the motion.”
The motion to amend failed 26-46, with several defections by Republicans.
Hatch, who left office with almost $1 million in his campaign account, is worth an estimated $4.3 million, according to campaign finance watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, supporters had initially asked for $2 million to build a center commemorating Hatch’s long tenure in Congress.
Messages left for the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation were not immediately returned on Wednesday.
The earmark also drew derision from both conservatives and liberals on social media, who say the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“Honestly. Who do these people represent?” tweeted Mark Pugsley about state lawmakers, who control the budget.
“It's hard to take the #utleg seriously on the need for more money in the general fund when they appropriate $500,000 to a United Nations Civil Society Conference. And $1,500,000 for the Orrin G. Hatch temple,” said Michael Jolley, a regular conservative commentator on Utah politics.
Honestly. Who do these people represent?
— Mark Pugsley (@Utahsecurities) March 13, 2019
And $1,500,000 to the Orrin Hatch temple.
— Michael Jolley (@UTJolley) March 13, 2019
Editor's Note: KUER is receiving an appropriation of $450,000 from the state budget for a planned transmitter in Washington County.