Lawmakers brace for big budget cuts
State lawmakers representing Summit County met on Capitol Hill Wednesday with the Summit County Council and discussed how to fill a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. wants to plug holes in the budget with money earmarked for transportation then bond for road costs, said state Sen. Allen Christensen, a Republican who represents most of eastern Summit County.
"Our first and most urgent priority must be to prudently and wisely balance our budget, as we always have," the governor said Tuesday is his State of the State address. "We are in this together, and together we will find creative solutions to critical problems, After working with legislative leaders on a solution for the current budget, tonight I am directing the Utah Department of Transportation to reinstate major road projects that were delayed in November."
The ailing budget has dominated discussion at the Legislature’s 45-day session with lawmakers already considering across-the-board cuts of 15 percent next year.
Meanwhile, the 2009 health budget could be slashed more than seven percent as legislators struggle to keep state coffers in the black with diminishing revenue from sales and income tax.
"Most of the (health) programs will stay, at least for now," said Christensen, who co-chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
But cutting each budget across the board is not how citizens want lawmakers to respond to financial shortfalls, said Rep. Christine Johnson, a Salt Lake City Democrat who represents the Snyderville Basin on the Hill.
Deep cuts proposed by lawmakers are "already contributing to an unnecessary level of fear," Johnson said Wednesday.
"I think it sends the wrong message to the private sector," she said. "It’s not healthy to create a panic of job loss."
But most of the state’s House Republican Caucus is bracing for sweeping budget cuts, explained state Rep. Mel Brown, a Hoytsville Republican who represents Park City.
"I think that’s very selfish," Johnson replied.
Still, Christensen cautioned Johnson to not "spend your whole savings account."
"I don’t think there is anything about the way we fund things in Utah that is taking us out to a buffet," Johnson countered.
Rather than slash money from education and health care to trim the state’s $11 billion budget, Johnson said lawmakers should bond for transportation needs and dip into the rainy day fund to bridge gaps.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.