Exploring impacts of legislative budget cuts in Carbon County area
After last week's special session of the Utah Legislature, it appeared that Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Republican controlled Senate and House did not see eye to eye. The rift became more apparent Thursday when the governor had time to look at what the state lawmakers had done.
"They did a good job in a hard situation," remarked Leavitt Wednesday night.
But the next day, Leavitt had different comments.
"I think some of the cuts were made without a deep understanding of what the consequences would be," pointed out the governor in a press conference. "That's one of the things that happens in a legislative special session that has one day to solve such a big problem."
Leavitt is particularly concerned about the cuts to corrections and law enforcement.
According to what the lawmakers did, public safety - basically the Utah Highway Patrol - will lose $1.4 million and corrections will be cut $2.1 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The decision could mean the loss of dozens of law enforcement officers and possibly the early release of prisoners who have not served out sentences.
It may be difficult for people to picture how the budget cuts could impact Carbon County because there are no prison facilities in the local area. But it can.
During the past several years, state corrections has experienced substantial funding cuts and some prisoners been released on early parole due to decreased revenues. Because of the increased number of parolees, state corrections officers are getting bigger caseloads to follow up on. In some cases, convicted offenders who commit crimes while out on supervision are not having paroles revoked, but are being left on the street unless the violations are very serious.
The situation has resulted in at least one possible murder when a boy was allegedly shot last summer in an Ogden park by a man who had been in trouble, but not had his parole taken away.
"The situation is affecting us and the adult probation people here," indicated Sheriff James Cordova during a recent interview. "In one case, a guy was released early in Salt Lake and came right back here. This early release is not a good thing, but who really is seeing it is the adult probation officers. They have hundreds of cases to follow up on."
An even greater concern could involve part of the parole process that the public may not realize exists.
"I think what may be as important as what happens to parolees after they are released is what happens before they get parole," noted Brad King, the state representative from District 69. "The pre-parole investigations may be one of the things that are cut."
Another point of concern to the local area could very well be the College of Eastern Utah. The legislature, against the gover-nor's wishes, cut higher education funding $3 million during the special session. The decrease is better than the $7 million originally proposed by the lawmaking body's leaders, but it still could hurt.
The last cut to higher education earlier in the year did not affect CEU too much because the other schools in the state allowed Carbon's local college to get by without any other money coming out of its budget. That was done because CEU is still trying to recover from having to make up more than $1 million that the school was in the hole when the previous president, Grace Jones, left to take the presidents job at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn.
The CEU deficit was complicated further by the cuts that the Utah Legislature has made to higher education in the past year that did affect the college.
"Generally, when cuts are handed out, you can count on CEU getting a cut of about $10,000 per every million in our budget," said King. "But in this case, the board of regents has been given the flexibility to apply the cuts to address specific issues. I can't be sure what we may face here at the college. But in this round, we may not lose anything."
But what the regents may do is not totally predictable.
King indicated that the changes in the areas to cut state budgets the governor pointed out and those the legislature finally arrived at went through tough negotiations, not only between party lines, but also between the Utah Senate and the House of Representatives.
One of the things the governor wanted to do was take away the one 16th-cent sales tax from supporting the rotating project fund for water districts and use the income from that to help slash the deficit.
However, the state lawmakers made some changes in that area, but not quite what Leavitt expected.
"The Legislature made the decision that they would take a straight $2 million dollars out of the water fund," stated King. "They also decided to cap the money the fund got from that sales tax. Any increases because of it will remain with the state rather than go into the fund."
Roads were another issue that concerned local officials and Carbon County residents.
The road projects of particular local concern are the improvements on Utah State Road 10, U.S. Highway 6 and on Utah State Road 191 from Moab to Blanding.
But none of the local road improvement projects were delayed because of the fact that the Legacy Highway, which significant amounts of money had been committed toward finishing, and the exit from Interstate 15 on 11700 South in Salt Lake have both been halted by court order.
"Those two stalled projects were worth more than the $20 million that was taken away from road construction," said King. "And if needed there is still some more money budgeted for those areas in the future, so that may be used, too."
That future is not far away. At the end of January, the members of the Utah Legislature are scheduled to start the regular session to begin not only working on legislation, but also funding for all state agencies for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.
The fiscal year runs from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004.
"A lot hinges on the actual revenues from the last quarter of this year and the projections for next," pointed out King. "Initially, it looks as if the quarter we are presently in is stronger, so that is a good sign."
"The figures we will get for next quarter's projections will be conservative. If the down turn continues it will be even more difficult. It all hinges on the economy," concluded the state representative.