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SALT LAKE CITY -- The numbers say the economy is recovering, but Utah lawmakers are still dealing with a harsh reality this year: a shortage of money.
The state of Utah may be in better financial shape than most states right now, but even here tough times may loom for normally "sacred cows."
"I've heard a lot from public and higher education and Health and Human Services that we've been cut to the bone and we can't take any more cuts. And I tell them, ‘We don't print money,'" says Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.As the 2010 legislative session looms, harsh realities may in fact play out. But lawmakers are willing to wait to make final decisions. A key landmark will be February, when more accurate revenue numbers come in. One of the big-budget items is public and higher education: A whopping 67 percent of the overall budget. There is also a heavy investment in Medicaid and corrections.
Those and other state agencies will be scrutinized again, in spite of repeated statements from all departments that more cuts are unsustainable. It could be a year of layoffs, cuts and consolidations.
"Those are all possibilities, and even maybe probabilities," says Senate President Mike Waddoups. "But I also say it's important for government to scale back."
Lawmakers do say they are initially on the same page as Gov. Gary Herbert on budget items. His budget calls for the same funding for education but doesn't allow for growth.
The governor is also taking a hard line on any kind of tax increase, but many lawmakers aren't willing to shut the door on that possibility.
If there's any good news in this, it is that lawmakers are optimistic about the long-term future of Utah's economy. But it looks like it's going to take a little longer than most people hoped or anticipated.