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Tax cuts, teacher raises and more broadband — Utah looks to spend some serious cash

Money over Capitol
Posted at 4:55 PM, Nov 16, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Powered by a red hot economy (and billions in federal stimulus dollars), the Utah State Legislature is poised to spend a ton of money.

On Tuesday, members of the Utah State Legislature's powerful Executive Appropriations Committee (made up of Republican and Democratic leadership) were told they would get a $614 million surplus. That's after the rainy day fund is replenished and other funding needs are met.

Altogether, it looks like lawmakers will have as much as $1.7 billion in extra money to spend this year for the general and education budgets.

"We didn’t think it was going to be this big," said Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

Added Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who handles the budget for the Senate: "It’s a big infusion of federal cash that’s come into the state."

In an interview with FOX 13, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he would like to offer a tax cut, increases to education funding (including the weighted pupil unit, which translates to teacher raises) and infrastructure improvements, including an expansion of broadband internet in the state.

"We’ll look at a tax cut, but more importantly right we have obligations we think to the people who have made our state so great," he said. "We need to take care of our employees, our school teachers, education, there will be plenty of spots to spend the money on."

But lawmakers intend to treat it as one-time money, unsure if it will truly last once federal stimulus bills stop. The Senate Majority Leader has proposed a small income tax cut. A coalition of community groups have been calling for lawmakers to not pass a proposed income tax cut, but instead fund social service needs.

Sen. Escamilla said she believed that's where the money should go, though she did support removing the sales tax on food.

"This is the time to start addressing the issue of homelessness, affordability in housing which is a crisis and also health," she told FOX 13.

On Tuesday, lawmakers were briefed on where some American Rescue Plan Act money will go in water infrastructure improvements. It includes $50 million to expand secondary water metering across the state to encourage conservation; $25 million for drinking water supply upgrades; $20 million for agriculture optimization to encourage farmers and ranchers to utilize the best water saving technology; and $5 million to help preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake.

Lawmakers will begin deciding where to spend all the new money in the 2022 legislative session that starts in January.