“It’s a positive sign that Utah is recovering slowly,” said Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, vice chair of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations committee.
“During the first week, the Legislature proposed a base budget, which addressed the $313 million shortfall in the ongoing budget. To make up that $313 million, next year’s budget would have to be trimmed and/or new revenues found.”
Even with the $263 million revenue, “we still need to replace funding of over $120 million to fund education and Medicaid growth,” she said.
“What the appropriations committee is doing, is talking to each of the committee chairs and looking at the 7 percent cuts we made to see which ones to move forward, and which ones to add back,” Fisher explained.
“At the end of the process, we hope to have money to fill in. It’s such a complicated process with lots of moving parts.”
With the session ending on March 10, Fisher said there will be a great deal of give and take between the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Office and the decision probably won’t be final until the last week. However, she said with the budget numbers, legislators believe they can fund education and Medicaid growth without raising taxes.
Fisher said immigration issues have also dominated the Legislature’s time.
“We only have two weeks left,” she said. “Some immigration bills take two hours to debate. Several bills dealing with illegal immigration have passed the House and are now on their way to the Senate. They include HB70, the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act and HB 116, the Guest Worker Program Act. We’re going to have a lot of bills fly at us so fast.”
Some of the bills haven’t even been drafted yet, according to Fisher. “Through week four, the Legislature is about average with the number of bills that have been introduced at 608 (that compares to 602 last year and 609 the year before),” she said.
“The Utah Legislature has passed a record number of bills this session through the first four weeks at 127 (that compares to 100 last year and 108 the year before).”
Fisher said lawmakers are dealing with some really difficult issues.
“They’re going to hit us at the end,” she said. “We’re going to have a log jam the last two weeks.”