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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And the Session Begins . . .

Today the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee approved a the Base Budget Bill. (What's a Base Budget Bill? How did that get started?)

Essentially, we approved a starting point plus a few very high priority items.

The committee . . .
* Approved last year's funding levels for next year's budget.

* Immediately put 25 percent of the one-time surplus (about $60 Million) into savings. That's $16.2 million for the General Rainy Day Fund and $44.2 million for the Education Rainy Day fund. This move brings the Rainy Day account up to $393.4 million - more than we had going into the economic downturn in 2002.

* Increased education funding by $34 million (in addition to last year's increase) to pay for the growth in Utah's student population (12,880 new students, to be exact).

* Made good on our promise of a $2500 raise for teachers to the tune of about $40 million. Retroactive. (This was unintentionally under-funded due to a counting error beyond legislative control).

* Added $2.4 million for the one-time teacher bonus. If you are a teacher and you are not getting your $1000 bonus, or the $2500 raise, please contact us.
As a point of reference, the governor's budget recommended $40 million for the Rainy Day funds, $34 million for enrollment growth, $20 million for the teacher raise, and nothing for the one-time teacher bonus (they assume PED funds FY 08 within existing budget).
We also increased Medicaid funding by $13.9 million to account for the fact that costs have increased, more people are using the program and the federal reimbursement has decreased.

$9.8 million is now slated for preventive maintenance on state buildings.

$2.5 million will go to reseed areas damaged by wildfires with native grasses.

So . . . it's a start.

If you've read this far, you'll probably also be interested in the following . . . .

A degree in math from the University of Utah.

Just kidding.

The Majority Leadership Team gathered Monday night, and the Senate Majority Caucus met the following morning – just two of dozens of meetings to come – to wrap ourselves around the numbers and start the long work of creating the next state budget.

A few highlights . . .
1) We discussed and approved the base budget proposal and the high-priority additions mentioned above.

2) In almost all instances we want to avoid new debt for buildings. We'll pay cash this year. Some transportation bonds, however, will still be issued on last year's authorization, which also includes the ongoing funding source to pay for them. If you want to know why that's a good idea, just call.

3) We are looking at paying off current debt.

4) We are looking at smart ways to provide property tax relief.
And, of course . . .
5) We are looking very carefully at teachers' salaries. How much of a raise can we offer this year? Do we do it as a straight WPU? The risk there, of course, is in the possibility that we allocate, say, a 7 percent raise but the districts only pass 3 percent on to the teachers and the legislature, inevitably, gets the blame. (That's not exactly a hypothetical, BTW.)
Stay tuned.

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