SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers this week are reviewing the budget, looking to make cuts to a number of government services as the state grapples with economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Utah families have had to tighten their belt. We’re doing the same thing as a state," Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13.
The Utah State Legislature asked state agencies to show where they could make either 2, 5 or 10% cuts to their budgets. Appropriations subcommittees have been meeting to discuss those possible cuts.
"We are going to need to make tough cuts and tough decisions. We are in an unprecedented time," said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper.
FOX 13 has been reviewing what potentially could be cut. A majority of state agencies are proposing not hiring for open positions. But depending on how deep lawmakers go, other cuts include:
- Pulling back some funding for homeless services and mental health services
- Cuts to foster care and child welfare services
- Some cuts to Medicaid services and matching funds
- Public safety could see UHP trooper layoffs at the most extreme level of cuts
- Snow plow maintenance and animal carcass removal
- Watershed, air quality campaigns
- Utah liquor stores could permanently limit store hours
- The Office of Consumer Services, which advocates for Utahns in utilities, could be eliminated at the highest level of cuts
- The Inland Port Authority and Point of the Mountain Development projects could also see some cuts
- Public education could see cuts to programs for low-income school children, special education and other programs and teacher layoffs and increased class sizes, depending on how deep cuts go.
"The Utah Education Association, we really believe that no cuts should be considered until the revenue numbers are in," said Heidi Matthews, the president of the state's largest teachers union.
She urged lawmakers to look for revenue sources instead of places to cut. In an interview with FOX 13, Matthews said the pandemic highlighted what Utah's children and education system needs.
"All of those needs still exist. In fact, they’re exacerbated by the pandemic. Our schools are going to need more, not fewer resources, to be able to address those growing needs," she said. "Particularly with the uncertainty of what going to school will look like in the fall."
House Democrats called for social services and public education to be protected in budget cuts. Rep. Harrison said the legislature should be dipping more into rainy day funds.
"We need to be surgical and smart about this. We’re a well managed state," she said. "We have a robust rainy day fund. We’re triple-A bond rated."
Sen. Adams said the legislature is dipping into those rainy day funds. He estimates about $1 billion will ultimately have to be cut from the budget in a July special session.
"The solution isn’t looking at these cuts. The solution is getting our economy going again," he told FOX 13.
He believes that if Utah can protect at-risk populations from COVID-19, the state could re-open much faster. While some told FOX 13 they anticipated it might be several weeks before risk levels are reduced to a "green" alert level, allowing more sectors of the economy to re-open, Sen. Adams said the data he has been watching showed much greater promise.
"If we protect that medically frail population, those that have the highest percentage of fatalities? We can open up our economy and our budget cuts will be less," he said. "Those employers will be able to bring back their employees and those employees can have a salary and we can get our economy going."