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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Legislature put the final touches on the state budget Wednesday afternoon. As might be expected in a tight budget year, the end result has some state agencies better off than others.
Which are the winners and which are the losers?
On Utah's Capitol Hill, money is so tight that the terms "winner" and "loser" are relative: Every state agency has had to take a hit this year, including public education.
Utah State Budget
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For other agencies, cuts are much more severe. One example is the Department of Corrections. Not only is there no funding for the anticipated growth in the state's prison population this year, but there was a cut.
Lawmakers cut more than $7.5 million from corrections. It's money for a center to expand housing and treatment options for qualified offenders. That means the prison is on borrowed time for drastic steps like early releases.
"We are on thin ice. It's only a matter of time before we run out of beds," said Tom Patterson of the Department of Corrections. "We are at 96 percent capacity now."
Everyone agrees that public education is a big budget "winner." Even though there is a $10 million cut to specific programs -- and the fact that growth is not funded for schools either -- educators say they're grateful.
Kim Campbell of the Utah Education Association said, "Even in these tough times, we would have to say that public education is a winner, especially because of the efforts of Gov. Herbert and some of the legislators who have fought really hard."
On the other hand, $500,000 of dedicated funding for school libraries has been cut to zero.
Higher education is suffering cuts; growth in the court system is not funded; about $113 million of transportation projects are on hold and more.
Advocates hoping, fearing last-minute changes
Utah lawmakers say the hard part of the session is over: getting the state budget done. They finalized details Wednesday afternoon, but it's not 100 percent solid until the Legislature adjourns.
So there are still advocates hoping to include some programs that aren't funded, as well as people from other programs who are afraid of some kind of last-minute cut.
The likelihood of either happening is slim, but the shortage of money this year has a lot of people on edge -- including advocates for Medicaid funding.
Funding for vision and dental care is already gone. Now, advocates like Lincoln Nehring of the Utah Health Policy Project are fighting to restore physical therapy and audiology programs.
"The services we now offer the people who are on Medicaid are smaller," Nehring said. "Their access to care is more limited. We're not paying providers what we used to. We've lost critical services like physical/occupational therapy and audiology."
Both sides share in successes
In the end, the budget solutions are being touted as a bi-partisan success this year. There is unfunded growth in public education, corrections, courts, higher education and more.
Still, both Republicans and Democrats say they've had a part in making tough decisions this year. They say things could have been worse and the tobacco tax offered welcome relief.
"The tobacco tax gave us $43 million of ongoing money, and that really helped us put the final pieces of this budget together," said House Majority Leader Kevin Garn. "We had plenty of sources of one-time money, but that doesn't help us on going. It just creates a structural deficit."
House Minority Leader David Litvack said, "I really think as a legislative body, we've done a tremendous job of addressing as many of the gaps as possible."
That gap was $50 million, compared to what Gov. Herbert recommended in his budget. He, too, has had to compromise to get to the final budget deal.