Governor’s budget proposal includes $500 million for Utah schools

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert wants to give schools a lot of money, and he'll have a lot of support as he tries.

The governor basked in the support of students at Granite Park Junior High School, where he held a press conference to announce his budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year.

Still, the governor may have a fight on his hands anyway.

The budget anticipates the state having an extra $638 million above the base budget from the current fiscal year.

Herbert said $500 million of that should go to schools. That includes $200 million for higher education, giving pay raises, building new buildings, and funding scholarships and high-tech training programs. The other $300 million would go to public schools.

About $58 million of that is arguably no increase at all, because it simply funds the growth seen in Utah's population of students.

But $161 million would be cause for celebration in most schools. It would fund an increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU). That's the formula the state uses to give money directly to schools, according to the needs of their student population.

"That's the largest increase in funding in the last 25 years," Herbert said.

The governor recommended increased funds for the Department of Public Safety, some meant to aid the process of moving the state prison, some to fund anti-recidivism programs, and about $1 million to pay for body cameras for state troopers.

More than $20 million would be used to clear the air over Utah's valleys, with a big chunk going to buy more modern school buses.

The Republican leaders in the state legislature are not arguing against the governor's budget priorities, but they disagree with the fundamentals underlying the budget.

"We don't want to appropriate money for ongoing programs if the economy is going to contract," said incoming Republican Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson.

Republican lawmakers announced this week they plan to consider a large percentage of the state's new money to be "one-time" or temporary.

They also will likely fight another plank of the governor's plan.

"I'm calling upon the legislature to free $94 million out of the earmarks to be put back in the general fund to be used for education and other issues," Herbert said.

Lawmakers passed a law in 2011 setting aside a percentage of state sales tax for transportation. The governor vetoed the bill at the time. That veto was overridden by many of the legislators still in the state House and Senate.