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Advocates Ask Lawmakers To Tap Rainy Day Fund And Preserve Education, Social Services Budget

Photo of U.S. Capitol under blue sky.
Nicole Nixon
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert plans to call a special legislative session to amend the state budget.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he plans to call the Legislature into a special session next week to amend the state’s budget, to account for revenue loss due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Lawmakers are looking to cut up to $1.3 billion. The reductions could affect programs like Medicaid and education.

That has prompted 18 nonprofit organizations to ask legislators to instead pull from the state’s $5.4 billion rainy day fund. 

Matthew Weinstein, the fiscal policy director for Voices For Utah Children, said Utah’s economy is actually doing better than expected and that cutting the budget could make things worse. 

“Every hundred million dollars of budget cuts translates into 1,000 to 3,000 jobs lost,” Weinstein said. “We've already lost over 100,000 jobs this year.”

He also said the reductions to social services, like public health and housing, could disproportionately impact underserved Utahns. 

In fact, Pam Silberman from the International Rescue Committee said a proposed cut to the state’s health department budget would shutter medical and dental clinics that support refugees and immigrants.

“These health screenings help identify untreated medical conditions that may prevent refugees from successfully rebuilding their lives,” Silberman said.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, is the chair of the Legislature’s executive appropriations committee. Stevenson said there’s only about $1 billion available in the state’s reserves, and those funds can be difficult to access. 

However, in a report to the executive appropriations committee in May, legislative fiscal analysts pointed to $1.7 billion in “easy to access” rainy day funds and $5.4 billion total. 

Stevenson said they don’t want to tap into those funds because they might need them later.

“We would prefer not to use that right now,” he said. “We think there’s probably a few days ahead that we’re going to need those kinds of funds.”

He said the Legislature will continue to meet to tweak the budget before next year’s general session.

KUER reporter Sonja Hutson contributed to this report.

Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Means13

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

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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