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Richard Piatt ReportingThese days at the state legislature, it's all about the money -- who's getting it and who isn't. The Legislature is already on the verge of putting the budget to bed, but, believe it or not, there are people who aren't satisfied with their piece of the 8.6 billion dollar pie.
The real winner in this year's budget is the state's Department of Transportation. Lawmakers are poised to pony up a 120-million dollar boost for highway projects--far above early proposals.
State employees will get raises, plus $10.9 million will help bring some, like state troopers, up to market standards.
There is enough money to fund open space preservation, to replenish the rainy day fund, technology projects, and more. All get money, partly thanks to an unexpected surplus.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, (R) Logan: "I think hopes were higher because of the extra money. But I think it's important to point out what we were able to fund."
But inevitably there are groups who still want more. Public education, for example, gets exactly what was promised, but no more: a 71-million dollar boost. Politically, educator advocates are aggressively asking that schools get the same attention roads are.
Pat Rusk, Utah Education Association: "To say that we're not going to fund public education because we don't like teachers who speak out, or we don't like school boards that have opinions. That's not representing the people of this state."
In health and human services Medicaid dental and vision coverage is funded again, but only for a year. And lawmakers are not picking up the slack for federal programs that are being cut.
Preston Gilbert, Medicaid Recipient: "Consider helping us more than building more prisons or roads, because that could cost lawmakers more money than helping us."
Judi Hilman, Utah Issues: "Don't tell me transportation is 20 times more important than health and human services; it can't be!"
Even between the House and the Senate and the Governor's office, there are differences about priorities. The Senate Minority leader is among those who would do things differently if he could.
Sen. Mike Dmitrich, Senate Minority Leader: "My concern, if I was in charge of the budget, I would put so much into transportation."
In fact, it means even some Republican pet projects--like incentives for the film industry, and a drug offender rehab program--are in real danger of not getting funded this year.