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Lawmakers preparing ‘worst case scenario' for state budget

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Feb. 3, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers are preparing a "worst case scenario" with the state budget, and that has a lot of people worried. That's because budget cuts are part of that darker forecast.

Lawmakers say they just want everyone to be prepared for what might happen. Still, there is cause to be concerned in a worst case scenario: a 2 percent cut. It's small in number but would be devastating in impact.

Almost everyone in the state would eventually experience the effect of that kind of cut. It would affect programs, offices and employees.

For education, it would mean bigger class sizes, more programs cut and another round of layoffs.

"These cuts go right to the bone. There's nothing to trim," says Kim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association. "These are severe cuts and will have an effect on students."

In Health and Human Services, those cuts could leave thousands of Utahns in life-threatening peril.

A Medicaid success story, is 13-year-old Bridger Hunt. Critically injured by a homemade explosive device, his mother is frightened at the thought of losing their coverage.

"Having Medicaid coverage is such an amazing thing," Mindy Shaw says. "I mean, we still pay a lot on top of that, and I can't imagine."

To police, fire and state worker retirements, cuts would mean delayed retirement and fewer benefits.

"We're just asking legislators to slow down, examin the facts and not hurt folks who are already hurting in a struggling economy," says Jennifer Kauffman, spokeswoman for the Association of Federal, State and Municipal Employees.

Lawmakers will know more when new revenue projections come out in two weeks, but until that time, people are worried and lawmakers are agonizing about what to do.

"We're trying to do this very wisely, with a scalpel approach per se. It's not generally broad-based," says House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara.

"It's important that people come up here and talk to their legislators and explain to them how important these programs are to them. It's not just a line with a big number attached," says Lincoln Nehring, with the Utah Health Policy Project.

Health and Human Service programs like Medicaid are tough because costs are rising quickly, and a lot of people rely on them to survive.

The good news is that the state still has about $425 million in its rainy day fund, and there is optimism that the revenue numbers will be positive.

But until that time, everyone is getting prepared to do more with less -- even if they already feel as though they are.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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