SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, has added a new definition to mixed emotions.
On the one hand he is eager to see Congress and the federal government get its fiscal house in order; however, he worries about the impact of that process on state programs and services.
State social service agencies have been asked to propose budgets this year with a built-in reduction of 5 percent in anticipation of potential fallout related to fiscal uncertainty in Washington, D.C.
State lawmakers have projected a potential budget shortfall of $50 million to $300 million, and social programs could feel the impact of that deficit.
“We find ourselves in the unenviable position of hoping the feds cut their budget and (hoping) that they don’t,” Christensen said. “It’s the NIMBY (not in my backyard). We absolutely want the federal government to cut spending, just not touch our budget.”
Christensen chairs the state’s Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, and on Tuesday, leaders from four separate social service agencies outlined potential plans to deal with possible cuts. The agencies include the Department of Health, Workforce Services, the Department of Human Services and the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation.
Robert Rolphs, deputy director of the Department of Health, said a lot of the department’s programs have been aided by federal grants, and he worries the shortfall could really impact cancer screenings and epidemiology programs. The department would look internally to make cuts before cutting any programs.
John Talcott, director of the Administrative Support Division of Workforce Services, said unemployment programs are exempt from possible sequestration cuts, but said a lot of the department’s child care programs and refugee programs would be affected by cuts.
Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Department of Human Services, said his department has approached potential cuts from several angles, including sequestration, entitlement reform or cost shifting. He said the department has assumed the state will not be replacing any lost federal funds, as part of that planning process.
Donald Uchida, executive director of the USOR, said his department’s only option in any potential revenue loss is to cut jobs. He said a loss in the workforce will amount to the ability to deal with fewer clients.
Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, is pushing the social service agencies to be creative in finding efficiencies this season.
“You’re going to hear some sobering facts. We’re concerned about it. I’m optimistic as well, but we’re also realistic. We are in a difficult situation,” Menlove said.
Christensen said committee members face a daunting challenge in trying to handle funding requests, which could potentially have an impact on hundreds of programs.
The North Ogden lawmaker said he remains optimistic that no services will be cut when everything settles, but he said in Utah people learn to prepare for the worst as a means of preparing for possible changes.