(KCPW News) A framework for solving the state's $272 million budget shortfall passed unanimously this morning in the legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee. Today is the first day of the special session convened by the governor to solve the problem. Senator Lyle Hillyard, co-chairman of the committee, says the framework will likely be adjusted as the session moves on.
"This is not a fun experience to do this. But we have to do it. And as we look at these, there are different options. But every option you look at has ramifications. So we think this will give us a framework to take a look at where we're gong," Hillyard says. "We may not have the votes, we may have the votes, there may be changes as we go through it. And, again, in a special session, it really kind of limits us."
Hillyard's framework recommends a 4 percent cut in state agency budgets, which will be replaced this year with a one-time cash payment. Hillyard says this is a quote "parachute" that will soften the blow of the agencies' smaller 2010 budgets. The plan also includes a 3 percent cut to public education's ongoing funds, which also will be replaced with one-time money. But that means next year, public education will have 3 percent less to work with.
If the Legislature's appropriations subcommittees don't come to a workable solution, the alternative is a straight 3 percent budget cut across the board, cautions Executive Appropriations Co-Chairman Representative Ron Bigelow.
"We are by law required to balance the budget. We must hit these targeted numbers. We cannot leave it undone. So one way or another, we will have to come to those numbers," Bigelow says.
The committee's tentative plans include a cut in ongoing state agency budgets; rescinding a new state tax break for Utahns with private health insurance; dipping into agencies' reserve accounts; and cutting budgets for capital improvements, building projects and transportation.