The Utah State legislature opened their annual session on January 26 while facing the daunting task of cutting up to one billion dollars in expenditures in the state budget. Preliminary estimates are that the budgets would be cut 7.5 percent in the current fiscal year and 15 percent in 2010.
Commissioners announced that they hoped the legislature would limit the cuts in a number of key areas, including health and human services, law enforcement and tourism promotion. Setting priorities will be a key task for the legislature as they set budgets over the 45-day legislative session.
County Administrator Rick Bailey reported on an emergency meeting he attended of the Utah Association of Counties. The meeting was an attempt by the diverse counties to prioritize county needs to have a united front during the legislative season.
The meeting addressed expenditures specific to the Health and Human Services legislative subcommittee.
Bailey reported that possible expenditures were placed into one of three categories, with “A” list having the highest priority, “B” list next and “C” list at the bottom. Bailey reports that he is fearful that the “C” list expenditures have no chance of approval, and that the “B” list expenditures have little chance.
The basic strategy is to request that funding related to Aging programs, Substance abuse treatment and Mental health support be handled as block grants, thus giving the local agencies the flexibility of making budget cuts according to their specific circumstances.
“It was clear at the meeting that one size does not fit all,” said Bailey.
Funding for corrections programs was also discussed at length at the meeting. The counties placed the funding of contracts between the state and counties to house inmates in the “A” list.