Utah governor releases $16B budget plan for upcoming year

FILE PHOTO - The Utah State Capitol is viewed Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers kick off their 45-day legislative session Monday with an endless stream of budget meetings and little bit of pomp and circumstance before diving deep into hundreds of bills. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday released a $16 billion budget plan for the upcoming year that tries to stem high turnover among prison guards and corrections workers and pay for 10,000 more students in Utah schools.

The governor’s plan serves as a starting point for state lawmakers who meet for their annual session in January to pass a budget for Herbert to later approve.

Herbert unveiled his plan in a speech at the Utah Highway Patrol office in Murray to highlight proposals to raise trooper salaries and additional equipment.

The $16.1 billion budget includes about $10.1 billion in state funds. Federal funds, local property taxes and higher education tuition make up the rest.

Highlights of the governor’s plan:

PUBLIC SAFETY

The governor’s budget includes $1.5 million to increase pay for state troopers, $1 million for trooper safety equipment and body cameras, and $750,000 to help the state crime lab manage evidence and speed through its workload. Herbert is also asking for $7.6 million to boost salaries for workers at the Department of Corrections and try to curb turnover among corrections officers by raising pay for skilled, experienced and promoted workers. The governor’s office says turnover among corrections officers was about 20 percent last year, leaving most corrections officers with less than five years of experience. Herbert said working in a prison can be stressful for guards and their families and tough on their psyche, especially when surrounded by inmates who are “usually not happy campers being out there.”

EDUCATION

Public and higher education make up about $4.5 billion of the governor’s plan, including an extra $116 million to local school boards to use to increase K-12 teacher pay or for professional development, technology and early intervention programs. The state is expecting more than 10,000 additional students in public schools next year. Herbert’s budget sets aside $68 million to pay for them, plus $9 million for teacher supplies. The governor is also calling for $25 million to raise pay for higher education workers and cover higher health insurance costs.

WATER

State environmental and agricultural officials spent the summer grappling with a massive outbreak of toxic algae on Utah Lake, a bloom that sickened more than 100 people and left farmers scrambling for clean water. As wastewater, runoff, drought and hot summer weather could create a similar outbreak next year, Herbert wants officials to put aside $123,000 to cover the costs of tackling the issue. The governor’s plan also sets aside $4.5 million for advanced water meters in some cities and towns to get better data on water use. A state audit last year found that Utah officials do not know exactly how much water residents are using or when they will face a shortage. Herbert said better data is needed before the state pays for major water projects like new pipelines.

TAXES

There are no proposed tax increases in the governor’s budget. But Herbert is calling on state and federal lawmakers to try to address unreported tax from online purchases. Utah lost about $200 million in revenue annually from unreported and uncollected internet sales, according to the governor’s office. Herbert wants lawmakers to try again, saying that if Congress does not address the issue, “We’ll do our own thing.” Amazon.com was one of the biggest retailers not collecting Utah’s 4.7 percent sales tax. The Utah State Tax Commission said Wednesday afternoon Amazon has agreed under a new deal to start collecting the tax on Jan. 1 and sending it to the state.

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