SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates for affordable housing and all-day kindergarten say the Utah State Legislature is not fully funding bills that would greatly help Utahns.
At a news conference on the Utah State Capitol steps on Tuesday, advocates for the homeless and affordable housing complained that lawmakers had only funded $55 million of the $128 million requested for housing needs in the state in the midst of a housing crisis.
"To slash proposed funds for those who are in need of deeply affordable housing while providing tax cuts to the wealthiest among us," said retired Rev. Steve Klemz of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "To slash those funds, I believe, rips at the very moral fabric of our state’s hope to live in dignity and equity."
The legislature has been flush with cash from tax revenues and federal stimulus dollars. At the same time, Senate Republican leaders said they have been slammed with requests from a number of groups. Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said they would like to start with $55 million and see how it is spent.
"We think we funded what’s needed. It’s pretty hard as you know, you see those monies, we’d like to see how those moneys are spent. We haven’t hesitated in the past to be able to especially focus on homeless, we spent tens of millions of dollars dealing with the problem," he told reporters.
All-day kindergarten is another initiative that has seen popular support in the legislature, but only got partially funded. The bill to enable it passed the Senate on a 24-3 vote — yet another sign of its popularity. Advocates asked for about $23 million to expand the program statewide, but only $12 million was funded.
"We had the parents, we had the teachers, we had the superintendents, the charter schools that wanted it. I think that this is something that Utah families care enough about," said Anna Thomas, the senior policy advisor for Voices for Utah Children. "It’s their kids, it’s their families, they want this option in their neighborhood."
She urged people to call their lawmakers in the last days of the legislative session to ask them to fund all-day kindergarten. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said he was supportive of the idea but called the $12 million "a step in the right direction." He said he would seek more next year.
Sen. Fillmore said education saw funding increases this legislative session.
"Because voters authorized it, we’re also putting in $250 million in one-time funds to put in additional work days for teachers, to provide facility upgrades for schools in rural Utah that need seismic upgrades, additional money for technology, we’re giving additional money for the work that teachers have already done when they worked overtime during the COVID surge we just had in the fall, we’re expanding all day kindergarten, we’ve already expanded the at-risk fund," he told reporters. "It’s just a banner year for education, we funded growth."