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Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts from Cache Valley

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator and Senate Chair of Exec Approps

The latest round is the third time I have been involved with the state going back and reducing budgets because of a downturn in the economy. I was Co-Chair of Executive Appropriations the first time when we had the shortfalls under Governor Norm Bangerter. He understood both the seriousness of delay and the difficulty in doing the reductions. At that time we raised taxes and reduced budgets by 3% across the board even for Public Education - well into the school year as I recall. Because of his firm leadership, everyone stepped up and the job was done.

During Governor Leavitt’s administration when shortfalls first began to appear he was convinced that the revenue downturn would only be temporary. He did not call the legislature into special session. He tried to do it administratively and that turned out to be a nightmare. He tried to hold Public Education harmless by advocating the use of on-going General Funds that had been put into the roads. His statements that these reductions can be handled by this transfer created the impression with Public Education that the legislature was just being mean to even talk about budget cuts to them and the whole process was very unpleasant.

When I first heard that there were shortfalls in the revenue forecast this year, I met with John Nixon, the Governor’s budget director, and we discussed how best to handle this problem. There was a tremendous amount of work done by him and his staff as well as our Fiscal Analyst, Jonathon Ball and his staff in getting ready for this session. They identified where the reductions could be made and where pockets of money could be found to soften the impact of reductions. We were able to cover many of the most critical areas and ease the transition. Agencies can now prepare for any reductions that they will need to absorb in the FY 10 budget which begins July 1, 2009.

To accomplish this during just two days of actual meetings is a tribute to the staffs involved. I believe that almost every member of our Fiscal Analyst’s staff worked through the night, last Thrusday. They had the bills printed and ready by noon on Friday.

Special Session action gives until January to see what other changes in revenue we may have and to fine tune what we have done to get ready for the FY 10 budget. Were programs and people cut off from beneficial results? Unfortunately, yes. Of course they were. It would be like you reporting to work in the morning and told that your income had been cut by 5%. You probably have fixed costs that must still be met and spending you like must be reduced.

Overall, I think the process was healthy and will make us better appreciate the services we have and the burden being carried by the taxpayers of this state. It is hard not to compare what is happening here to what happens in Washington where no one has seemed to get the picture that spending money we don’t have only causes more problems. I think the public can be thankful and proud of the legislators of both parties who stepped up to the problem and will make this transition over these fiscal problems much easier.

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