Yesterday was the first day of the 45-day session and I’m working to keep you informed throughout. Legislative sessions are always fast-paced, packed with information and hard work. I’m hoping to share weekly updates and information so that you can feel confidence that we are working diligently to represent District 16’s interests.
The Budget – Our Most Important Task
Creating, adjusting, and then adopting a Budget is our most important task. It gives us the roadmap to see where we are going, set goals for the future through policy and funding and track where we have come. Here’s how the budget process works in Utah:
First, each Legislator receives a copy of the base budgets for their committee. We immediately vote to approve those budgets, so we at least have a skeletal budget in place at the end of the session. It’s a safeguard, if we cannot come to an agreement on the final budget.
Then during the first 4 or 5 weeks of the session the appropriations committees meet to hear testimony, review priorities, and recommend decisions. They submit their budget request to the Executive Appropriations committee, which is tasked to bring all the various budgets together and create the full budget. Then the final budget is presented to the body to be voted on, and amended like any other bill. When it is passed, it becomes the working budget for the next fiscal year.
We receive final revenue numbers in mid-to-late February, so until that time we operate on our best estimates of actual numbers. Not knowing the federal levels of funding and if Congress does not act until March, it will create challenges in balancing our numbers and our ability to the holes the Federal budget may create. If this occurs, we may need to pass our final budget in a special session later in the spring.
Managing our Federal Funds
Our funding from the federal government can vary significantly from year to year and needs to be allocated appropriately. For example, money received from the 2009 American Recover and Reinvestment Act was one-time federal money. As we allocated that money, we were careful not to create new or one-time programs. Other states were not so careful and it caused problems for their current state budgets. We require that each department and the governor’s office submit a plan of how they would cut their budgets in the event of a 5 percent or a 25 percent reduction of federal funds. We completed this task in FY2012 to create a good starting point. The report of this action is found here.
Budgeting is Difficult
You elected me to remember foremost that the budget money we are allocating is tax money from your pocket to be used prudently to provide the services needed most by our state. It is heart wrenching to hear passionate supporters advocate for every dollar and every program. There are just as many advocates who can explain why higher taxes would burden struggling people at the lower end of the economic scale and the “job creators” at the higher end. Working for the right balance is foremost in my mind.