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Fight for Money Begins in the Legislature

Fight for Money Begins in the Legislature

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Richard Piatt ReportingThere is already a fight over money on Utah's Capitol Hill. Today House Democrats disputed an early Republican plan to spend a big chunk of the state's surplus on transportation projects.

By now, most people know Utah public education needs far more money than it's getting. But transportation projects are not far behind, and it's getting more critical as time goes on. According to UDOT, the state needs 23-billion dollars between now and the year 2030 to keep up with highway projects alone. Under current funding amounts, only 6.5 billion dollars will be available.

That's part of the reason House Republicans are making transportation a priority. Early proposals call for a budget infusion of between 85-and 90 million dollars from the state's surplus this year. The money won't get there without a fight. House Democrats are already wondering about other unmet needs in the state.

Rep. Ralph Becker, House Minority Leader: “It really is a matter of using balance when it comes to using our fortune.”

There is a big wish list for the state's 320 million dollar surplus, and it's going fast. Years of budget deficits now mean a lot of programs want to catch up. Besides education, the Governor is requesting economic development get a big chunk of money; state workers have been without good raises for several years. And most on Medicaid are hoping their vision and dental benefits will be restored.

Rep Brad King, (D) House Minority Whip: “While we recognize transportation is a very important part of what we need to deal with this year, it’s certainly not the only part.”

But Republicans are already leaning toward boosting the transportation budget, especially since it's budget was one of those cut during hard times.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, (R) West Valley City: "You can't ignore transportation. If we ignore it this year and next year, it will almost force us into a tax increase and I don't think that's what people want."

This is just the beginning of the budget battle--all hands clamoring for a surplus that can only go so far.

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