OREM — Governor Gary Herbert unveiled his wish list for the state, spending $13.3 billion on initiatives and programs across Utah.
“My number one budget priority has been, historically, education,” the governor said, announcing his budget priorities at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday.
Education will get a lot of the state budget — $3.6 billion has been earmarked, including $157 million in new money. He’s budgeted $64 million to fund 10,300 new students coming into the system, and $61.6 million for per pupil spending.
“We’re also putting $5 million into the budget for school supplies, so teachers don’t have to take money out of their own pockets,” the governor said.
Higher education also saw an increase in money — including $19 million to help with classroom capacity issues and $57 million to pay for a new science building at Weber State University in Ogden.
Among his other budget spending requests:
- $15.7 million to market Utah out-of-state to new tourists (tourism, he notes, is a $7.4 billion industry in Utah);
- $36 million to expand the Utah State Prison in Gunnison;
- $18 million to improve air quality in Utah, including initiatives and replacing school buses and state fleet cars with more efficient vehicles;
- A 1.25 percent raise for state employees;
- $1.5 million for mental health care programs;
- $17.5 million for the Huntsman Cancer Institute;
- $1 million for disability services;
- $1.6 million for the Pamela Atkinson Homeless trust fund and $500,000 for the Road Home Shelter;
Herbert said his budget includes no bonding or borrowing.
“I would submit to you that the budget we’ve rolled out today, in its entirety, is rational, it’s reasonable and more importantly, it’s responsible,” he said.
The governor’s budget must be approved by the Utah State Legislature, which can modify it.
“It’s a great start, as usual,” House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, told FOX 13 News. “It’s always a great place for the legislature to start doing what we do, which is to do the budget.”
Lockhart said that as the legislature works to balance the state budget, the governor may not get everything he wants. She also told FOX 13 News she is not predicting a tax cut.
Democrats were somewhat critical of the governor’s proposed budget, saying that even $3.6 billion keeps Utah last in education funding in the nation.
“Out of all the other states, we’re 51st,” said Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, the House Minority Whip.
Democrats criticized something that was not in the governor’s budget — Medicaid expansion, saying Herbert has failed to make it a priority for the past year.
“It doesn’t seem to be. It’s our priority,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve been working on that along with public education.”
Herbert said he has not made up his mind about whether to accept a Medicaid expansion, telling reporters: “We will not be rushed into this.”