Lehi legislators were pleased by the minimal cuts included in the state budget passed during the special session on Thursday, June 18. While the Legislature had looked at cuts as high as 10%, the final budget included cuts that amounted to just 1.7% overall, with an increase in spending for education.
“The cuts were surprisingly smaller than expected,” said Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi. While cuts as high as 10% were considered and anticipated, rainy day funds enabled a minimal budget decrease in the face of nationwide economic downturn.
In anticipation of the changes that might need to be made, legislative committees responsible for state funds had drafted potential budgets under scenarios requiring 2%, 5% and 10% cuts. When all was said and done and rearranged, the final outcome of a 1.7% cut was considered a success in light of decreased revenues caused by the response to COVID-19.
Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, said the budget impact was “relatively small” because the Legislature has been diligently working to set aside “working rainy day funds.” The legislature has used somewhere around $400-$500 million of those funds this year.
These working rainy day funds are different from the more well-known rainy day fund maintained by the state of Utah to be able to meet the constitutional mandate to balance its budget. The standard rainy day fund is used when an economic downturn puts the state at risk of not being able to pay its bills. The “working rainy day fund” – an unofficial title used by legislators – can be used when projecting a revenue and setting a budget, as the legislature did last week.
Moss and other Lehi legislators said it was a unique hallmark of Utah’s approach to state fund management that made this possible. “We were able to significantly minimize the impact of this current crisis,” Moss said. “We still have that whole actual rainy day set aside to carry us through. Very, very few states have done what we’re doing.”
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, said, “I was really happy to be able to sit and figure out where we could make a lot of cuts in our budget. I think it’s sound policy.”
He praised the Legislature’s ability to increase the state education budget by over $140 million, even while cuts had to be made elsewhere. While some areas of the education budget were cut, the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) was increased by 1.8%. He also gave credit to the flexibility provided by the working rainy day funds.
In light of the need to cut certain parts of the education budget, a bill (HB5003) was passed to give local school districts greater flexibility in using property tax revenue this coming year.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said of the $850 million overall cut to the state budget, “I don’t think anyone is overly thrilled with the aspect of how much we had to cut. But I do think that we were responding to the facts of the shortfall that was created due in part to the pandemic, in part due to poor decisions at the executive level.”
He said the Legislature anticipates needing to cut more probably sometime in the fall, perhaps another $850 million, depending on how the economic situation unfolds.
Among the cuts was money intended for small pay raises for the legislators themselves.
Every other year, an independent, seven-member commission appointed by the governor reviews the compensation given to legislators for their time spent on state business. This year, the commission recommended raising the daily compensation rate from $273 per day to $285 per day. But the Legislature voted to reject that raise.
The designated salary is paid only on days legislators meet for official business. It doesn’t apply to time spent meeting with constituents or in other informal duties related to their office.
Anderegg said he calculates each year how much money and time he spends vs. how much money he earns for the legislator’s salary. For 2019 it shook out at about 73 cents per hour.
But he said, along with all three representatives, that rejecting the pay raise “was the right thing to do.”