SALT LAKE CITY - State lawmakers hope spending a week putting the state's existing budget under a microscope, will result in millions in savings.
Taking a different tact, all committee meetings the first week of the Legislature's 45-day session have been appropriations groups, taking a closer exam of base budgets --or the budgets currently in place for the state's 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Typically lawmakers approve base budgets for different departments in the first week of the session and spend most of their budget review time looking at new expenditures or proposals.
"It's been a challenge to spend so much time on the budget. We're looking into corners we haven't looked at before," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Senate executive appropriations co-chair, said. He said early indications are lawmakers have found as much as $10 million in savings for ongoing funds, and $50 million in one-time budget savings. Final estimates are expected Monday when the base budget reviews are completed by each appropriations committee.
Hillyard said a lot of the savings will be reallocated, in many cases within the committees where they were found. He said it will save lawmakers from the need to find new money, come crunch time at the end of the session, when new budgets are finalized.
Leaders in both the Senate and House said the budget review has given new lawmakers time to become acquainted more intimately with existing budget expenditures, rather than just new requests for money.
"The information we're getting back has been positive," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said.
But not every corner has yielded savings. Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who is also vice-chair of the Senate appropriations committee, said he expects few savings to be found in education, because that funding is formula based. He said that takes almost 42 percent of the state's overall budget expenditures off the table as far as possible cuts, adjustments or savings.
He said lawmakers will do an assessment at the end of the session of whether spending the first week on base budgets has been fruitful.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, oversees one of the committees which deals with the most programs. As co-chair of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Christensen and his committee have held eight three-hour meetings as of Friday afternoon to go over each agency's budget. He estimated his committee has identified approximately $10 million in underused dollars, which he hopes the committee will be able to target elsewhere.
"We're going to put them together and put them to the best use. We're not going to give any of it away. We have tremendous needs here," Christensen said.
The North Ogden lawmaker said the perception there is a lot of waste in state government spending is off target.
"Honestly there is not a whole bunch being wasted anymore. We've scoured through the closets, looked through the drawers and emptied them. There's not a lot of fluff left. We got rid of the fat and we're right down to the bone and muscle," Christensen said.
Because only the appropriations committees have met for week one, none of the Legislature's standing committees have met and had a chance to review specific issues.
Stevenson expressed some eagerness to tackle a bevy of almost 1,200 bills, but he said time has shown that the key issues and matters will float to the top and be dealt with.
"The other side of this is we've been living without all of them for the last 100 years," Stevenson mused.
The slow review process has claimed some victims. Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, said the pace of week one of the 45-day process has been difficult. "It's been a bit dry," Kennedy said.