Senate: 2009 budget cuts to be made by week's end

Senate: 2009 budget cuts to be made by week's end

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Legislative leaders say they're nearing an agreement with Gov. Jon Huntsman that should allow them to finish cutting the 2009 budget by Friday.

State lawmakers are looking to cut about 7.5 percent from this year's state budget because of rapidly declining revenue caused by a global economic meltdown that began hitting the state last spring.

Huntsman's proposed budget of $10.6 billion for the upcoming budget year is about $1 billion less than the one lawmakers approved near this time last year.

Lawmakers are rushing to make cuts so the state will stop spending money and fewer cuts will be needed. "(It's) very important. That's why we're on this fast track to get it done," said Senate budget chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

Republicans in the House and Senate -- which control both bodies -- have agreed to soften the blow of that 7.5 percent cut by shifting about $175 million, or about 3.5 percent, from a handful of unused reserve funds and some construction projects into a pool of money for state agencies.

Lawmakers will decide by Friday where that money will go. The end result is that the overall budget cut for 2009 will be about 4 percent.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said lawmakers still have some minor differences with Huntsman on the 2009 budget, but they should be resolved quickly. "It's a small, small divide that we can easily step over," he said.

Details on the differences between Huntsman's 2009 budget and lawmakers' weren't immediately available. Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said Republicans have tried to keep her in the loop on the budget, but she had not seen the budget figures Republican leaders had agreed on. "We're waiting for them anxiously," she said.

A bill with the final budget changes is expected be passed by Friday or Monday at the latest. However, the $175 million lawmakers are using to soften the blow of the cuts is a temporary fix. That money won't be available to fund salaries or government programs in the budget year that begins in July.

Huntsman and lawmakers are still far apart on how deep cuts for the 2010 budget should be. Legislative leaders favor slashing the budget by about 15 percent, while Huntsman wants a smaller of cut of about 7 percent for most state agencies.

Legislators and Huntsman are both working toward a balanced budget, but they have different ways to go about it. Huntsman wants to tap into the state's rainy day fund and issue bonds, while lawmakers do not. Huntsman has also proposed increasing vehicle registration fees and has floated the idea of raising taxes on cigarettes.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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