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Utah Surplus Could Reach $406 Million

Utah Surplus Could Reach $406 Million



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State lawmakers could have as much as $406 million to spend or offer in tax cuts when the Legislature convenes in January.

Revenue estimates released Tuesday show the state can expect a budget surplus of between $246 million and $406 million thanks to a strong economy.

"Economic growth continues to exceed targets. ... Revenue collections are showing that we'll be better off than we were anticipating in February," said Andrea Wilko, the Legislature's chief economist.

Tuesday's forecast was the second of four lawmakers will use to set the state budget and decide how large a tax cut -- if any -- to offer.

Lawmakers have cut income taxes the past two years and some would like to see a further reduction next year. However, the state's schools are primarily funded through that tax, which has had Democrats opposing a cut in the income tax.

Utah has the nation's largest class sizes and spends less per student than any other state.

The next revenue forecast will be released in December following a Nov. 6 referendum on a private school voucher program that could cost more than $400 million in 13 years if approved by voters.

In the past, monthly forecasts were issued by Doug Macdonald, former chief economist of the Utah Tax Commission. That stopped once he retired last March, after he and two other economists were warned by some legislators to not give their opinions on state tax policy.

Lawmakers said they were concerned about how the forecasts were being used. When the state anticipates a surplus, legislators contend they face increased political pressure on how the money will be spent. Some also expressed concern that there was too much room for error by having only one person make a forecast.

House budget chairman Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, said he hopes the public's expectations with the budget surplus aren't too high. He said he's worried the economy won't be strong forever.

"There are clouds on the horizon. There are concerns in the mortgage industry," he said. 'I think it wise that we not plan on spending every dime that we get. Perhaps there will be some conservative views of not spending all the revenue that is projected to be on the table. There's no requirement government do that anyway, although there is certainly an appetite."

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(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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