We are now in the budget intensive part of the annual legislative session.
This past week we received new revenue projections that we will use to finalize the budget. Early in the session, we "pencil" in the budget numbers based on the December 2011 projections. These new numbers are more accurate and will allow us to do the final work of balancing the budget.
The revised projections show additional growth of about $14 million dollars, bringing our total revenue growth to $422 million. We also learned in the past week that the state would be receiving $23 million as Utah's portion of the national mortgage lender settlement. This represents the penalty portion of the settlement that goes to the states; individuals who were harmed are permitted restitution directly through a claims process.
Overall, this is good news. It means the state is experiencing slow, but steady growth. Many states are not yet experiencing growth in the post-recession period.
Earlier in the session, we passed the base budgets which make up 95 percent of our nearly $13 billion state budget. The remaining 5 percent of the budget will be completed in the next five days as we allocate the revenue growth.
We have already identified a number of key areas that may receive funding. Much of the revenue growth will go to public education, including:
* $41 million for enrollment growth for the 12,500 new students that will start school next year,
* $5 million for teacher supplies,
* $7 million for computer adaptive testing,
* $5 million for small, rural schools,
* Nearly $22 million in per pupil spending increases,
* $5 million for online testing,
*¬· $2.5 million for charter schools,
* Over $1 million for special education students,
* $5 million for school buildings
Other spending items at the top of the list for consideration are: replenishment of the Rainy Day Fund, higher education increases, Medicaid growth and inflation, and addressing the structural deficit of $52 million in ongoing programs that were backfilled with one-time money during the recession. We will address all these needs without a tax increase.
We still have more funding requests than money, so the work of sifting the requests by priority is happening in earnest. This is always a difficult part of the session as we are usually picking budget winners and losers between very good and deserving requests that have won the approval of a budget subcommittee.
This can be a very difficult process, but it is an important part of balancing the budget and ensuring that we have a sustainable budget.
The challenge after so many years of belt tightening will be to resist spending our surplus with abandon.
The lesson of the recession is renewed fiscal responsibility. Utah has always enjoyed the reputation of a fiscally prudent state, which allowed us to weather the recession with our AAA bond rating intact.
We must renew our commitment to investing wisely in economic development opportunities, limiting the growth of government, and continuing to set aside funds for a rainy day.
Our state budget is the same as a family budget, just on a larger scale, and should adhere to all the same principles of sound budgeting.
Brad Dee is the House majority leader. He represents House District 11, which covers portions of Davis and Weber counties.