Lawmakers continue to work on budget recommendations for 2010


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Layoffs, program cuts, early prisoner releases: all are possible after the Legislature gets done with budget cuts. But with just a week left in the 2009 session, no one knows for sure which of the cuts to worry about.

Usually we know more about what the final budget numbers are going to look like at this point in the session.

But the federal stimulus money is complicating the process this year.

That's because a lot of that money comes with strings attached. In other words, a lot of the money can be used for specific things. And that's not necessarily where the biggest budget holes are for the state.

Right now, the budget shortfall compared to this time last year is a billion dollars.

The state is set to get $1.7 billion in stimulus money, but that money is intended to last two years into the future. That will make the cuts to public education and Medicaid less severe for the next two years; however, lawmakers crafting the budget are still piecing the puzzle together.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, said, "It's assisted in that we have more money available. But it's complicated it because there are strings attached and specific requirements that introduce an element that we normally wouldn't have."

Thursday, House and Senate Democrats unveiled their own, independent budget proposal: one that minimizes cuts. But it includes a hike in the tobacco tax and to vehicle registration fees.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Pat Jones Senate Minority Leader, said, "So without looking over our shoulders, we've tried to find the best way to maintain programs with moderate increases in revenue to add to the basic budgets."

One winner with the stimulus money is Medicaid programs. The money will last two years and amounts to a significant boost to certain programs.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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