Utah Legislature: it’s all about money
It must be hard for families who are on the waiting list to receive help from Utah’s Division of Services for People with Disabilities to believe the governor’s claim that the state budget has a $1 billion surplus. According to a lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center four years ago and still in litigation, there are 1,800 disabled Utahns who meet the state’s requirements for eligibility but have been turned away due to lack of funds.
It must also be difficult for teachers, who are regularly asked to educate more kids with less money, to share the legislators’ delight in announcing they have a bundle of unclaimed cash. It is common knowledge that Utah spends less per pupil than almost any other state in the country, that educators are struggling to meet the needs of non-English speaking students and that new federal testing standards have placed enormous burdens on school administrators especially those in areas with a higher percentage of disadvantaged students.
And it must be devastating to social service and public health workers to see clients neglect their treatments due to lack of insurance and exorbitant medical costs, and then to hear legislators congratulating themselves on their budget surplus.
Interestingly, news of the surplus began circulating right before the Legislature convened in January. There was even talk of offering taxpayers a rebate.
Don’t laugh. It happened once before. About a decade ago, state legislators spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to divvy up and mail rebate checks to taxpayers after cheerfully announcing a budget surplus. Not long after, though, the same legislators, presumably re-elected on the basis of their thrifty behavior, were back to cutting programs and saying ‘no’ to teacher salary increases and more per-pupil spending.
This time around, legislators seem to realize that kind of pandering isn’t going to earn them any votes next November. Initial hints about a possible rebate got a cold shoulder and legislators have since been feeling out a variety of alternative suggestions.
Some legislators are still flirting with voters by promising sweeping tax cuts. But, by now, savvy citizens should realize that any notion of a surplus in the face of rising health care costs, increasing school enrollment, expanded transportation needs and heightened homeland security concerns is just plain fiction.
If there is a stash of unallocated revenue, public health programs and education should be the first to get part of that funding. Keeping Utah healthy and smart will do more to ensure the state’s future prosperity than waving around a big bankroll skimmed from social services and schools.
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