SALT LAKE CITY — The size of a possible deficit the state Legislature will have to tackle this session seems to be anyone’s guess.
The estimates range from $300 million, outlined by Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year, to a more modest $50 million. One key lawmaker actually thinks the state may have a small surplus.
No one is guessing what the source of the shortfall is, however. All fingers seem to be pointing to the federal government and the uncertainty looming as a result of the so-called fiscal cliff.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said he thinks the governor’s deficit number is high and that it may be more along the lines of $190 million.
Stevenson, who is the new Senate vice chairman of Executive Appropriations, said the fiscal uncertainty means the state won’t be able to fund programs at the same level as last year.
“It puts us in a bit of a spot,” he said of the anticipated deficit.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, vice chairman of Executive Appropriations for the House, said lawmakers are working with deficit projections ranging from $50 million to $250 million.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who chairs the Executive Appropriations committee, thinks the state will actually have positive numbers to report when revenue estimates are adjusted. He still warns about depending on federal money to fund programs.
“People who live by the federal dollar will die by the federal dollar. I think a day of reckoning is coming. The sooner it occurs, the better we’ll handle it. I’m concerned the way we are going now, we’ll go over a cliff or hit a wall,” he said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said it is clear the state won’t be able to meet what it did last year. “We’re going to be very careful and prudent with the requests.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said state lawmakers will be conservative on how they address fiscal issues until they get a clearer picture of what revenues will be.
He thinks the deficit will more likely be in the $50 million range rather than $250 million when everything settles.
State lawmakers expect to get more solid budget projections in February.