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Utah Legislature approves 2009 budget cuts



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Legislature finished cutting its 2009 budget Monday, slashing nearly every state agency's funding by about 3.8 percent in a rush to keep the state from going into the red.

Among other things, lawmakers eliminated tobacco cessation programs, dozens of corrections officer jobs and reduced spending on tourism advertising. Gov. Jon Huntsman is expected to sign the budget lawmakers approved into law.

Utah is suffering from growing unemployment and declining revenues caused by a global economic crisis that began hitting the state last spring.

When lawmakers convened this time last year, Utah had one of the nation's strongest economies and lawmakers' most difficult challenge was deciding how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money.

But soon after passing an $11.5 billion budget last March, Utah's economy began to nosedive as a nationwide housing crisis hammered Utah's construction industry.

After a September special session and the $175 million in cuts approved Monday, the 2009 budget now sits at about $11.1 billion.

Next year's budget will be even less. Huntsman's proposed 2010 budget is about $10.6 billion and many lawmakers expect that figure to go even lower once new revenue estimates are released in two weeks.

"It's going to be very, very challenging," said Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

Lawmakers were able to soften much of the blow of this round of budget cuts by shifting about $190 million from construction projects, bonds and a disaster relief fund, among others, to reduce what were originally going to be $365 million in cuts.

The catch is that the shifted money is one-time funding that won't be available when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

That means many programs that were left untouched this budget year, such as an autism registry, drug reimbursements for Medicaid and a cervical cancer outreach program, could be on the chopping block in next year's budget.

For other agencies, the budget cuts they receive in the 2010 budget will likely be much deeper than what was approved Monday.

Lawmakers decided to cut the state education department by only 3 percent in 2009, while classroom programs got a 1.5 percent cut.

Republican leaders and Huntsman are still in negotiations about how to reach a balanced budget for the upcoming year. Both are seeking a balanced budget, but Huntsman has expressed a greater willingness to tap into the state's $414 million rainy day fund, impose new fees and bond for projects than have legislators.

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

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Brock Vergakis Writer

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