Richard Piatt ReportingIn one of her last official acts in office, Governor Olene Walker presented a balanced budget proposal, and no tax increase. Now it's up to Utah's incoming Governor and the Legislature to iron out the details.
Governor Walker's colorful visual aids indicate good news about the state budget: A ten percent increase in projected revenue, which could mean an extra 370-million dollars for the state.
Gov. Olene Walker: "Our economy is turning around at really an outstanding remarkable rate."
It's all good news for Walker's priorities. For example, in education Walker proposes a five percent increase in classroom funding--more than 78 million dollars, in addition to allowances for growth and Performance Plus Math program.
The Governor wants to boost funding for Medicaid by 35 million. And she's taking environmental interests to heart by funding land conservation and watershed programs. A growing prison population is on her mind; she's suggesting funding for growth and drug treatment programs. And she proposes rebuilding the rainy day fund, along with a couple hundred million to pay to improve buildings around the state.
Walker calls her budget a 'starting point', fully realizing the Huntsman administration and the Legislature will examine it.
Mike Jerman, Utah Taxpayers Association: “I recognize that Governor Huntsman will have to put his own touch on this.”
Mike Jerman, Utah Taxpayers Association: “I suspect quite a bit of continuity. The same budget director that drafted this budget will be around for the next administration. So that’s an indication there won’t be a lot of changes.”
And there is good news -- very few fee increases, although the Governor was almost tempted to say otherwise. The only increases are just tied to inflation in the governor's budget.
There is more optimism about the budget this year, but challenges still exist for the state. That's why the governor continues to plug meaningful tax reform as a long-term goal.