Utah Legislature Has $900 Million Extra This Year — Mostly for Education | KUER 90.1

Utah Legislature Has $900 Million Extra This Year — Mostly for Education

Feb 20, 2020

Utah lawmakers have more than $900 million extra to spend this year, according to new estimates released by state leaders Thursday. 

That includes $610 million in ongoing revenue and $311 million in one-time funds.

Legislative leaders said the new totals are signs of a growing economy, but point out that $841 million of that is income tax revenue and is constitutionally required to go into the Education Fund. Just $80 million of the totals goes into the General Fund.

That, they said, is further evidence of a “structural imbalance” that needs tax reform to fix. 

“We're not in a crisis, we’ll be able to work through this,” said Senate Executive Appropriations Chair Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. “But every year this will continue to cause problems until we get to some kind of a tax reform package.”

The Legislature passed a tax reform package in December aimed at addressing that imbalance, but repealed it last month after intense criticism over increased grocery and fuel taxes. 

According to House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, after funding basic services in the state, the General Fund is $50 million in the red and the state will have to dip into the rainy day fund. That means, he said, many bills will struggle to receive funding in the final budget. 

“Us taking a year like this and spending less is not necessarily a bad thing. We can take a year and try to regroup,” Wilson said. 

Lawmakers are discussing an income tax cut, in light of the large Education Fund surplus. But several advocacy groups oppose cutting taxes that provide funding for education.

“The growing economy in Utah provides an ideal opportunity to make long-needed investments in the promise of a quality education for every student,” said Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. 

Lawmakers have until mid-March to pass a final budget bill.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson