SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert wants to see lawmakers pay for body cameras for state troopers, health coverage for poor Utah residents and a sizeable jump in education spending next year.
Herbert, a Republican, unveiled his priorities Thursday morning for Utah’s $14.3 billion budget.
Chief among Herbert’s wish list items is an additional $500 million for education, including a request to double the amount of money sent to school districts for teacher salaries and other costs. His budget does not recommend taking on any additional debt or any specific tax increases.
But Herbert also proposed lawmakers find a way to pay for maintaining roads and bridges over the long term. That could involve raising various taxes, including the gasoline tax, which has not been increased in 17 years. Herbert said there’s a good argument for raising the gas tax, but he’s not recommending any specific increase because lawmakers are divided on the best method and he wants them to discuss it.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, S-Sandy, agreed that lawmakers need to find a way to pay for roads and said he expects something will pass in the upcoming session.
Herbert’s budget goes to Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers will finalize the budget when they meet for their annual session in January.
POLICE AND PRISONS
Herbert is requesting $1 million to equip Utah state troopers with body cameras. Protesters, police officers and President Barack Obama have called for the cameras to help resolve potential disputes between police and witnesses in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. The cameras will go to all 560 officers at Utah’s Department of Public Safety, which had requested the cameras.
“We need to have something that will help protect the public and give them confidence in what’s going on and also protect the law enforcement officers who are laying it all on the line,” Herbert said.
Utah officials are working to relocate the state’s main prison in Draper, and Herbert has recommended setting aside $46 million for the project next year that could go toward buying land or other expenses.
Of the $500 million Herbert wants to send to education, more than half would go toward public education, including about $160 million for districts and charters schools to use for teacher salaries and other expenses.
That’s more than double his recommendation last year, and the highest jump in 25 years, according to Herbert’s budget staff.
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he applauds the governor for the proposed increase, which he said seems larger because spending was cut during the recession.
The governor wants to send another $58 million to cover the additional 8,000 students expected to be enrolled in Utah schools next year.
For Utah’s colleges and universities Herbert proposed a 3 percent raise for higher education employees and $99 million for new buildings at the University of Utah, Snow College, and Dixie Applied Technology College.
One of the big issues lawmakers will be wrestling with next year is if and how they’ll cover thousands of poor Utah residents without health insurance. Under President Barack Obama’s health care law, the federal government has offered to help pay most of the cost if states allow more people to be eligible for Medicaid.
Lawmakers are considering several alternatives, including Herbert’s proposal to use federal money to enroll people in private health plans. His budget includes $4.6 million to get that program off the ground in 2016.
The program’s costs to Utah will gradually increase to about $90 million annually by the third year.
If Utah pursues that plan, Niederhauser said that full cost should be budgeted for up front.
“I don’t want to buy the car because the payments are deferred for three years,” he said.