SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's state budget would be capped through a proposed state constitutional amendment, despite an annually balanced budget and the state's strong fiscal reputation.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said House Joint Resolution 37 would amend the state constitution to prevent a budget increase from the previous year's spending at a rate greater than inflation plus population growth.
The cap could be waived with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
The cap would reduce big swings in state funding, Wimmer said.
"In the boom years, we hand out money like Christmas gifts," Wimmer said. "Then, in the down years, we have to make painful cuts."
The resolution passed a House committee Monday and could be debated on the House floor this week.
To amend the Utah Constitution, a resolution must pass the House and Senate by a two-thirds vote and then be approved by voters during a general election.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, said a constitutional cap is unnecessary because the state already balances its budget and has an AAA bond rating, which proves its fiscal restraint.
More important, the state doesn't carry a debt load like the federal government.
"This bill suffers from a misperception that is common in the state of Utah, that our state government is one and the same as our federal government," Powell said.
Allison Rowland, the tax and budget director for advocacy group Voices for Utah Children, said a cap would limit the Legislature's ability to manage the budget as it sees best.
"This bill fundamentally removes flexibility from the Legislature," Rowland said. "It doesn't trust the Legislature to decide which services are essential and non-essential."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the Legislature already adheres to the principal of a cap. During the economic downturn, only the tobacco tax has been raised, and when the state had a big surplus, spending was limited and the reserves were increased.
Those reserves have shored up the state budget during the past two years, and may be used again this year.
"This would have a minor impact, because it would restrict our ability to spend money, but we're already doing that," Waddoups said.