SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposed an $11.9 billion budget on Friday that for the first time in three years includes funding for enrollment growth in the state's public schools.
Utah spends less per student than any other state and has the nation's largest class sizes, in part, because it has one of the country's highest birth rates.
The class size and funding disparity between Utah and other states grew in recent years as the Great Recession took hold, leaving state leaders with little money to hire new staff.
But a state revenue forecast released in conjunction with Herbert's budget anticipates $215.6 million more revenue for the budget year that begins July 1 than in the current budget. Herbert is also planning on using $100 million from the state's rainy day fund, leaving it with about $110 million.
Herbert's budget doesn't include any tax increases, helping him fulfill a campaign promise he repeatedly made in the leadup to this year's special election that he won against Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
Herbert contends that a recession is the worst time to raise taxes, fearing it could stunt economic development.
"Our focus should be on economic development and creating jobs. As we do that -- have economic expansion -- revenues come into government and we're able to in fact pay the bills that we the people think are important," Herbert said.
His budget proposal includes money intended to help lure more business here, such as $7 million for tourism marketing, $7.3 million for business incentives and $1 million to lure businesses from California to Utah.
But his budget also doesn't include funding for growth in higher education or any pay raises for state workers.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he's concerned state workers may start quitting if they continue to be denied raises, but he recognizes there isn't enough money to pay for the increases.
The Legislature ultimately sets the state budget and Waddoups said Herbert's proposal is a good starting point.
"We'll do better when we do our budget because the new budget numbers will be out in February and we'll have more debate and more input from the agencies and the advocates and the people, but that's how the system works," Waddoups said.
"We'll refine an excellent framework that he's given us.
Herbert's budget calls for spending $50 million to help pay for more than 14,000 new students expected to enroll in the state's schools next year.
"We're a fast growing state. So we almost have to run just to keep up with the demands we have out there," Herbert said.
Herbert is also recommending $7.5 million to continue the state's extended day kindergarten program and spending $2 million to implement a set of common national academic standards.
States have historically developed their own standards, making comparisons between states difficult and causing problems for students who move between states.
But educators say the new standards will give Utah the ability to compare itself nationally and internationally to determine whether it measures up.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway said he was pleased with Herbert's budget proposal, particularly with his inclusion of funding for all-day kindergarten.
"In the last four years it's shown extraordinary results. It's helping our most at risk students be prepared to start their education in first grade," he said.
Herbert's budget also calls for spending $10 million to reimburse counties for housing prison inmates at county jails and an additional $5 million to house 230 more inmates. The state prison has routinely been at or nearing full capacity in recent years.
Other budget highlights include spending more than $40 million to pay for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program caseload growth and allocating $3.3 million for mental health centers to handle growing numbers of clients.