SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — On the last day of the Legislature’s session, budget writers released dozens of programs slated for state funding, a list one lawmaker described as “Christmas tree ornaments.”
Included: $1 million dollars for a “motion picture post performance economic development incentive program,” $500,000 for the Inland Port Authority, $4 million to replace wood-fired stoves and fireplaces with gas appliances, $250,000 to Utah’s Hogle Zoo, and $500,000 to R.S. 2477 litigation cost sharing.
$16 million was slated to be taken from a restricted account for student population growth to pay for mental health counselors in schools, according to a Utah Education Association lobbyist.
Not funded was $1.5 million for the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, which some suspected was to funnel money to temporary digs for former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s library.
“We have these weird appropriations, like a million and a half dollars to give to Orrin Hatch’s center for self-aggrandizement or whatever they’re calling it,” said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute. “But after all the public hearings, that request has been pulled. There’s lots of pork in the budget though, and there are a lot of other pennies in the cushion.”
Lawmakers did not fund a vehicle emissions reduction program, otherwise known as ‘cash for clunkers,’ which could have given moderate to low income families vouchers to trade in their 2003 or older cars for newer ones. The aim was to get some of the most polluting vehicles, the “dirty of the dirtiest,” off the roads.
Still, air quality activists said total funding could reach above $20 million to help clean the air, far more money than legislators ever previously committed.
Educators seemed pleased with funding, noting the ‘weighted pupil unit’—a measure to gauge expenditures for public ed—will go up 4%.
Sydnee Dickson, Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the money, among other things, would help raise teacher pay. The UEA had earlier asked for a 6% bump in the WPU.
Still, the Utah Senate passed a resolution that would allow the state to use money from the state income tax—which now goes exclusively to education—for social services.
Also Thursday, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee said lawmakers had shifted more than $300 million from “on-going” money to “one-time” funding, with the aim of putting pressure on themselves to reach big tax reform, which proved elusive during the session.
“We need to get back here and get this tax situation figured out, and fixed,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Davis County. “So I think everybody’s ready for a break. We’ll take the break and then will come back.“