Lawmakers meet in special session to address budget

Utah lawmakers will reconvene June 18 and 19 for their fifth special session of 2020 to address the state's budget crisis.

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers are reconvening for their fifth special session of calendar year 2020 to resolve budgetary shortfalls in state tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two-day legislative session on June 18 and 19 comes after special interests and advocacy groups have bombarded lawmakers with demands that funding for cherished programs like public education and children’s welfare not be adjusted. Those groups insist that the state should resolve the budget shortfall by depleting so-called “rainy day accounts” which they believe total up to $5.4 billion.

But Rep. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, counters that Utah is certainly not sitting on $5.4 billion in cash on hand that can be readily diverted to the budget crisis.

That figure of $5.4 billion instead represents the total of state reserves in certain budgetary mechanisms that the Legislature can use to manage an economic crisis, according to Benjamin Leishman, a legislative fiscal analyst.

“The $5.4 billion is an estimate (of funding that could be utilized) over five years and that is mostly in bonding capacity,” Leishman explained.

Using additional bonding capacity for ongoing infrastructure projects would allow current revenue earmarked for roads and buildings to be diverted to resolve the budget crisis, but would also require Utah to incur more debt.

New revenue projections released by the state on June 16 indicate deficits of $93 million in one-time funding and $757 million in ongoing funding for the current and upcoming budget years.

The current estimates by legislative leaders is that the state has about $1.9 billion in non-bonding capacity available to cover that less than $1 billion shortfall, according to Rep. Stephen Waldrip, R-Eden.

The use of those “rainy day” funds would mean that the Legislature would only need to trim the state’s $20 billion budget by an additional modest 1.7% percent, according to a June 17 announcement on Capital Hill.

“The choices we’re making about cuts to the budget are data-driven …” said House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, in a statement released June 17. “(Those decisions) are intended to help the state move into a rapid economic recovery.”

Due to the ongoing threat of coronavirus infection, the Utah Capitol will remain closed to the public during the special session. Lawmakers have the option of attending in person or by videoconference.

The public is invited to watch the proceedings via the Legislature’s website.

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