State's Draft Budget Prioritizes Education, State Employee Salaries, Mental Health
The state Legislature’s draft budget includes big wins for education and mental health programs, as well as money to increase state employee salaries.
Lawmakers have said the general fund is tight this year, due to a budget “structural imbalance,” where sales tax revenue, which feeds the General Fund, has slowed, and income tax revenue, which goes to the Education Fund, has grown.
The budget includes more than $27 million towards wage increases for higher education employees, and $5.1 million towards a new higher education initiative that gives grants to “deep technology” programs.
“Deep technology” means things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology. The programs would include “instruction, extensive workplace experience, or mentoring.” The funding is tied to a bill that creates the initiative, which is still making its way through the Legislature.
Enhanced kindergarten intervention programs get $10 million in ongoing funding under the proposed budget, which is almost half of the roughly $18.7 million a bill under consideration this session asks for. The after-hours programs give additional instruction to at-risk kids.
Lawmakers have set aside $10.8 million in ongoing funds and $5.9 million in one-time money to fund a bill that expands mental health mobile outreach teams and adds more mental health receiving centers. The mobile outreach teams and receiving centers are meant to provide an alternative to the standard system of dealing with mental health crises: ambulances and emergency rooms.
“Emergency rooms are designed to put stitches in, set broken bones, reverse overdoses, things that can be done in relatively short order,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, during a committee meeting in November. “The outcome of behavior health issues is much more complex and difficult to treat in an emergency situation.”
The bill gives $27.6 million in ongoing money to Medicaid and its Children’s Health Insurance Program and $16 million of one-time money to deal with a potential outbreak of coronavirus.
State Employee Salaries
State employees getting a salary bump under this bill include child and family services caseworkers, state hospital forensic staff, legislative staff and correctional staff.
“We have some big issues with employment inside of our Department of Corrections,” said House Majority Whip Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. “We’re down I think, like 150 employees in our prison. We're having a hard time retaining those employees at the prison. And, you know, and it's hard for me because we need to do a little more there, but we don't have the resources to do it.”
A high-profile affordable housing bill that called for $35 million in funding is getting about $10 million in the draft budget.
The Inland Port is getting $1.5 million for its administration, the state crime lab has $2.8 million for DNA sample testing, and $1.5 million is going towards the cost of hosting a 2020 Vice Presidential Debate in October at the University of Utah.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson