After 12 years as the so-called “budget man” for the Utah State Legislature, chairing the Executive Appropriations Committee, Republican Senator Lyle Hillyard of Logan changed positions this year and focused during the 2017 General Session on co-chairing the Public Education Appropriations Committee.
Hillyard said it took a great deal of time, energy, care and consideration from many dedicated individuals to bring the education budget together. He said he was pleased with the way the groups worked in harmony, all of them passionate about children and public education.
“We ended up giving $240 million to public education, which is about 59 percent of the budget, the new money put in,” Hillyard said. “I think not only the money, I think the way we allocated it—I think the feeling in the committee is that we were listening to people, we were encouraging their response and we were having a having good dialogue back and forth.”
Hillyard said educators received a four percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit, or per-student funding, which is money allocated directly to school districts on a per-student basis. Also helpful to teachers was the fact that the Legislature removed the statutory requirement that teachers pay fees to become licensed.
At the close of the Legislative Session, which ended Thursday at midnight, Hillyard also noted changes to the state’s gas tax. Prior to passage of the bill—<a href=”http://le.utah.gov/~2017/bills/static/SB0276.html”>SB276</a>, sponsored by Republican Senator Kevin Van Tassell of Vernal—Hillyard said the revenue collected from the gas tax was negatively impacted by changes in inflation.
“The thing I like about gas tax is number one, it’s a user fee. People pay it who drive the boats and use the roads. And number two, it’s targeted for more rural areas. I would hope very much that it would be the basis to fund the widening of the road, the Valley View Highway up in Cache, that we’d be able to do that. Every time the money goes up in these funds, there’s an additional amount that’s kicked to the cities and the towns and the locals called the B&C Fund.”
The B&C fund is used by local municipalities for day-to-day operations and road maintenance. The new gas tax bill will boost the price at the pump about 0.6 cents per gallon beginning in 2019 and 1.2 cents a gallon in 2020, steadying gas tax revenues.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert has until March 29, 2017 to sign or veto all new bills passed during the 2017 Legislative Session. If he takes no action, the legislation will take effect without his signature.