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Savings and growth lead to $166 million state budget surplus

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Savings and growth lead to $166 million state budget surplus

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Sep. 17, 2014 at 9:35 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — The state announced a $166 million budget surplus Tuesday, thanks to both savings and growth in revenues.

"Our focus on growing the economy is paying off for Utahns, who have improved their employment situations and elevated their qualify of life," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement about the surplus.

The governor said the size of the surplus, which includes $126 million for public schools, "shows we are using every tax dollar to its maximum effect and living within our means."

Some of the funds left over from the budget year than ended July 31 will automatically be transferred into the state's so-called "rainy day" funds, leaving $112 million actually available to be allocated.

That means $105 million for public schools and $7 million for the rest of the budget. The public school funds come from state income tax collections, which sales tax is a key component of the general fund revenues.

Just how that money will be spent will be determined by the 2015 Utah Legislature, which begins meeting in late January. Herbert will make his preferences known in his annual budget, expected to be released in December.

His spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said the governor is looking at recommending the surplus funds go toward building projects that are still being identified. The surplus funds are seen as one-time money that can't be used for ongoing programs.

The size of the surplus is down from last year, but Carpenter said the revenue estimates for the budget year beginning July 1, 2015, are likely to be up because of the strong economy.

"The trajectory of our economic growth has us optimistic about a number of things," Carpenter said. "I think that likely indicates good things for the state budget as well."

The revenue growth in the surplus announced Tuesday is $131 million in the education fund and $35 million in the general fund. The general fund was $7 million under budget, but public schools were $5 million over, according to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office.


Our focus on growing the economy is paying off for Utahns, who have improved their employment situations and elevated their qualify of life.

–Gov. Gary Herbert


House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said while the numbers reported to the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee Tuesday are good, lawmakers still need to be cautious about spending.

"This is positive about the Utah economy. It is growing. Things are slowly improving, which is all good. But it's not vigorous, astronomical growth, so we have to be very careful about the decisions we make," she said.

Lockhart, who is not running for re-election, said she expects revenue growth to follow a similar pattern of "slow, steady increases, nothing shocking in terms of amount."

She said the competition for the surplus dollars should be significant but it's important to ensure some of that money stays in state coffers.

"We have some catching up to do as we come out of the down years," the speaker said. "We have to remember the economic cycle, so we have to plan for the down years that will inevitably happen."

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Lisa Riley Roche

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