Utah State is on track to have a balanced budget again, but it isn't painless. We don't print money, and we won't run a deficit, so when revenues come in lower we have to adjust our spending to match new income.
This afternoon the Exec Approps Committee approved a budget proposal that reduced FY 2009 spending by $273m (5%) combining those proceeds with $45m from fund balances and $32m in facility bonds to close a $350m revenue shortfall. Too much detail? I feel your pain, but keep slogging through, you're almost done. Spending reductions include $175m in operating funds and $98 m from buildings. State operating budgets were reduced by 3.8% on average this year, while public ed - including administration - received a 3% reduction. Classroom budgets decreased by 1.5%.
We eliminated $365m from FY 2010 base budgets, back-filling $175m - plus an additional $15m for public education - in FY09.
We did not dramatically cut cash funded road projects. That allowed the Utah Department of Transportation to revive stalled road projects and create valued construction jobs.
And we preserved 100% of the state's rainy day funds for use in case of further economic erosion.
The Committee's recommendation will be written up in bill form and presented to the Legislature as a whole on Monday.
By Megan Robinson Senate Communications Intern This afternoon I interviewed Senator Pete Knudson about S.B. 25 - Online Voter Registration. The Senator described the benefits of this bill in my first interview for Senate Radio. Listen here.
Senator Greiner started it out with the bill he presented on the floor today (re: gang activity - can be seen on YouTube here), then we talked budget reductions starting about nine minutes in. STOF at 17:20.
By Lyle Hillyard Senate Chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee
This past week has been a real challenge with the announcements of possible cuts if the revenues continue to decline. A major reality check will be the revenue projections released in mid-February, which will tell us how close our estimates that we have been using are. A major difference in the approach taken by the Governor and the legislature is our hesitation to spend all the one-time moneys and transfer the on-going road money to other places. If the revenues are not down, we will be able to see what one-time moneys will help lessen the impact this late in the budget year, which ends June 30, 2009. We could still have reductions reported any time during the fiscal year. We must have money to cover the budget on June 30th. Sorry folks, we can’t just print money so it has to be there. The reductions we can make now, along with what was done at the end of September 2008, help us handle the expenditures for FY 2010, which begins July 1, 2009. I am concerned that many of the people who plead with me to expend the rainy day funds now are not considering what is going to happen to their budgets FY 2010.
Thursday I saw the latest TC-23 report. In case you don’t know what that is, it is the monthly report issued by the State Tax Commission that reports on the collections received and compares it to past years and where we projected those revenues to be. Although not fully accurate and can’t be used alone to project where we are on our estimated revenues, it is always better to see we are collecting more than projected. I was sick to see that it showed almost a $100.0 M reduction from what we had estimated in December. It is within our range but I wish it was on the upside instead of the downside.
I have seen some very positive things in this process. While some groups approach me with the attitude that their program is just too important to cut not realizing that the reductions proposed are hitting every program and agency, I have been impressed with those who approach me with plans of still providing the services in an altered way. I really want to reward them as best I can. I have been told of employees who have volunteered to take a day without pay but still do the work. I have been impressed with employees who say that they would rather take a cut in pay to make sure that no one is laid off. With that attitude, I am sure that the State will survive and probably be stronger for facing these reductions.
The session begins on January 26th and ends March 12th. We will have new revenue figures about February 16th. That will give us 3 ½ weeks to complete this budget. Any help you can suggest with new and better ways to provide necessary services with less money will be appreciated and encouraged.
The spectacular season celebrated by the University of Utah football team has made a convert of many Utah residents, including a few from the Senate. President Waddoups, a BYU graduate and a longtime Cougar sports supporter, saw the light on January 16 and experienced a change of heart (and colors). Before addressing the crowd of Utah fans gathered to celebrate the Ute's 31 - 17 victory over Alabama, President Waddoups, with the help of the University President Michael Young, traded in his Cougar-blue tie for one of the bold-red persuasion. The Senate President then congratulated the team and their fans for a great season and invited the team to Capitol Hill to be recognized by the Senate. He also praised the school for supplying the state with an undisputed powerhouse team.
We've been using Twitter since late summer, evaluating potential. Seems like an easy and helpful communications tool when we're working on the fly (like, say, during a special session). I won't have 10 minutes to hammer out a short blog post, but might easily find 15 seconds to text a Twitter update*. In a pause between meetings. On an elevator. At a traffic light.
One factor to consider is bang for the buck. Is a minute on the Twitter site worth more or less than the same minute spent talking to a reporter or constituent on the phone, or responding to Email? Of course it depends on the minute. Twitter is certainly a quick way to communicate with a group of fairly astute political types who have expressed interest in what we do.
It's a great tool for the right situation.
For us, 10-30 aggregated minutes per week on Twitter seems to be time well spent. As long as staff avoids sinking too much time there, I believe Twitter is (in Dave Pogue's words) . . .
. . . a brilliant channel for breaking news, asking questions, and attaining one step of separation from public figures you admire. No other communications channel can match its capacity for real-time, person-to-person broadcasting.
I don’t accept gifts. So imagine my surprise when the Deseret News reported that I was among the top recipients of lobbyist gifts in 2008, receiving $800 worth. The Utah State Bar invited me to speak at their annual convention last summer, and as is typical for speakers they waived the $400 fee for the convention. Both the executive director and his assistant had to file reports and each reported the $400, which incorrectly doubled it to $800. When this was first reported, the Bar asked the Lt. Governor’s office to correct the error, which they did not. Many of my constituents have expressed approval of my policy, so I hope I haven’t lost their trust by this misreporting.
I go to great lengths to pay for my own meals. I don’t take gifts. I’ve returned or given to charity many, many gifts over 18 years of public service. I intend to keep that policy.
By Lyle Hillyard Senate Chair of Executive Approps
A few words before we start budget work on Monday. This year has made the budget process an important thing to understand as you look at how the budget will be developed this upcoming session. The Governor begins his process in August and September by asking the agencies to prepare their budget requests. This year, he realized that the revenues would be down but wasn't sure of the extent of that problem so he gave the agencies some guidelines in their preparations.
This is completed by the agencies usually by late October or early November. He then has until December 15th to announce his budget. During this time, his staff and the staff from the legislative fiscal analyst office are working through their process and meeting to come to a consensus revenue figure so we at least are talking from the same basis when the Governor’s recommended budget is released.
Things were somewhat disrupted when it became evident that a Special Session was needed to correct the ship as each passing day made that correction more difficult. When the revenue continued to slide, the staffs met earlier and came to new agreed revenue and the Governor released his budget about two weeks early. Because it is only a recommendation, the Governor could make recommendation on changes in our
Appropriation laws, and
Give general cuts by percent and not by actual departments.
Our budget doesn't do that.
Governor Huntsman used much of the one-time money to soften the blow and could use on-going General Fund money that was dedicated for roads to fill in for on-going education and human services programs. The Governor's information was limited at the time, and the public only saw his final recommendations.
Now the legislative process begins.
While we began with the same revenue numbers, we can see that the economy continues to slide. We won’t know the full extent until the revenue figures are reported for the end of the quarter which is December 31, 2008 and that won’t be final until the second week of February 2009. The information from the economy that we can see shows us that there may very well be further reductions. Our staff tells us that the revenue figures accepted as consensus last December were the lowest any one proposed rather than the usual splitting the difference so the slide may not be as much as feared.
We have directed our staff as a beginning point to
Not to assume there will be tax changes, and
Not to assume we will alter our prior enactments.
That seems safe to me. Getting the votes to support change among 104 legislators or at least the majority is much more difficult than being the Governor where you alone decide - so we need a starting point based on no change.
This beginning point will probably be very scary for the groups who depend on state spending to support their program. This process will allow each legislator to see what these cuts represent in the form of reductions of governmental programs and what changes they can see to still provide the same services for the reduced amounts. It will also allow them to review other means of raising revenue such as user fees and modification of revenue sources.
The types of tax increases to hold all programs harmless would be so high that the general public would rebel. These committees will be asked to verify that there is still money in the programs scheduled to be reduced that it can still be ended. Will any reductions cause lawsuits that should be avoided?
Please remember – on Monday's work is just a starting point. The real result is where we end up, not where we begin. The legislative staff is non-partisan. They work for both the Majority and the Minority Parties. They were given an assignment of finding the reductions to meet the needed revenue if nothing else changes. It has been a very difficult job but one that will give us some insight and guidance. It will also show the public how serious these reductions in revenue are. I accept for the purpose of these reductions that every governmental program is important so I don’t need to hear that. I also accept the fact that we must have a balanced budget and unless there are cuts, we are way out of balance. What I am most impressed in hearing are how programs can be changed to still be effective with the reduced money. The citizens of Utah expect us to be reasonable but accountable to our responsibility to spend what money we have wisely and within the amount we have.
Well, Bob Bernick is true to formula in his latest article. But he is right about one thing: many legislators are serious about government reform. Somehow he missed the fact that I am one of them. Under my direction, the Senate took unprecedented steps toward openness and engagement. My office worked diligently to provide citizen access to government through daily media briefings, a live webcam, and other experiments too numerous to mention.
Now, as I return as a senior senator, I am privileged to sponsor bills again. My bills this year include
Independent ethics investigations,
Proper communication with other branches of Government, and
A change in housing reimbursement for legislators.
I am committed – and have always been committed - to promoting civility and ethics in government. I have worked hard behind the scenes and in public to promote my goals.
Bob Bernick may never understand what really happened here, but I hope others will look at my service and judge it fairly.
The Senate Majority position on alcohol policy is not hard to understand.
Bottom Line: Proposals that put more drunk drivers on the street will have a remarkably short run in the Senate. The same goes for proposals that would tend to entice our kids towards alcohol abuse. However, proposals that will make Utah less awkward but preserve the beneficial effect of current law will likely have my support and, I believe, the support of the Utah State Senate.
Here is the key:
1. We're concerned by violence done by impaired drivers on Utah streets.
2. We're concerned by the harmful impact of underage drinking.
3. At some level we're concerned by the harmful effects of overconsumption.
Do we love "antiquated laws" that make Utah look quirky? No. And yet that unique package of law is an integral part of our low DUI rates and underage drinking. They have a substantial beneficial effect.
Utah has the lowest alcohol-related fatality rate in the nation. Compare the stats on page 6. Seventeen percent of highway deaths in Utah are alcohol-related compared to 31 percent in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. The rate in Idaho is 28 percent. Texas is 38 percent.
Underage drinking in Utah is about half the national average.
It's likely someone in your current circle of family and friends is still alive today because of those unique laws. If we mimic other states' law we may soon mimic their fatality rates.
The current chant ("Utah is quirky, why oh why can't we be less so?") lacks juice. Would you put your family at risk on the basis of that argument? Of course not. Less quirky if fine - desirable, even - as long as we don't sacrifice the safety associated with our unique laws.
Proponents of change need to be conversant with the full impact of their proposals before their arguments can stand the light of simple, responsible scrutiny.
Utah is innovative and we have no shortage of bright minds. I'm sure we can work out responsible solutions.
The change from the 57th to the 58th Legislature officially occurred in the early seconds of January 1st, 2009. The actual physical transition, however, requires a little more work. Here is former-Senate President John Valentine packing up.
Chris Vanocur was there to capture a few memories on film.