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$1.3B in new revenue available for next Utah legislative session, budget projections say

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Dec 4th, 2018 @ 7:04am

SALT LAKE CITY — More than $1.3 billion in new state revenue will be available for the next legislative session, which could mean a significant infusion for education, according to projections released Monday by Utah's governor and legislative leaders.

Consensus projections suggest there will be $675 million in new ongoing funding and $646 million in new one-time funding to be available for fiscal year 2020, according to a joint statement by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes.

The revenues reflect the strength of Utah's economy, Herbert said.

“I'm grateful for the strong economic performance that has created this revenue growth. As we head into the legislative session, we look forward to investing a sizable portion of this money in education while also returning a sizable portion of these revenues to the taxpayer,” he said.

State economists project of the total ongoing estimate, $187 million will accrue to the General Fund with the remaining $488 million going to the Education Fund. They also project $67 million of the one-time revenue will be deposited in the General Fund and about $580 million in the Education Fund, according to the statement.

Utah Senate President-elect Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the projected boost in revenues speaks to the strength of Utah's private sector.

"We're not going to spend it all, that's the first thing," Adams said.

Lawmakers intend to take a pragmatic approach to the projected revenue increase because they respect that the money comes from taxpaying businesses and individuals, he said.

"This means the private sector is doing well and we need to make sure the private sector continues to do well so we can continue to have the money we need to fund these government services. We'll be very smart with it. We've seen cycles before. It's apparent we're at the top of the cycle. We'll be prudent with those tax dollars," he said.

Education remains a top priority for lawmakers along with funding Medicaid, he said. While the increase in revenue allows the state to address pressing needs, it is important to keep an eye on the future, Adams said.

"We need to do it in a responsible way that anticipates what may be coming in the future," he said

The revenue projections were welcome news to state and local school superintendents, who learned about the numbers during a meeting of their statewide association Monday.

"The reaction was a very robust, ‘Wow!’," said Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.

"We've not seen such a thing, so we’re just kind of absorbing it right now and we're not sure exactly where this is going to go. We’ve seen large surpluses in the past, and estimates in the past, but we’re excited about its potential. We’ll just have to see where it goes," he said.

The association has many recommendations for ongoing funding: $36 million for enrollment growth; $5 million for transportation; $500,000 for Necessarily Existent Small Schools and $30 million to hire additional personnel as part of a new school safety initiative.

Another ask is to increase the value of the weighted-pupil unit by 5.5 percent. The WPU is the basic building block of education funding.

Recently, the Utah State Board of Education proposed to lawmakers spending $164 million in one-time funding on upgrades to schools to enhance safety. The association is seeking about $65 million, he said.

Given the positive revenue projections, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler said "the board of regents is hopeful the Legislature will consider all of its budget requests, including operating as well as capital priorities."

One key priority is placing a college adviser in every public high school in Utah, he said.

"This $6 million statewide program would ensure all high school students receive guidance on applying to college and for financial aid, and is proven to move the needle on college enrollment rates of high school grads by as much as 9 percent. An investment of this kind will change Utah’s education landscape for generations to come,” Buhler said.

Hughes noted in the statement that it is "no accident that Utah's economy is expanding. We have many entrepreneurs, we have created an environment for businesses to thrive and we are fiscally conservative.”

He added: “We must invest these short-term gains in fiscally prudent ways to ensure Utah’s continued success.”

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

Marjorie Cortez

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