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Utah continues budget debate

The Utah Legislature completed the first week of state government's pre-session last Thursday.

"The intensity of discussions this week was more like the rush of the last week of a general session to balance the state budget," pointed out Senate appropriations chair Leonard Blackham.

Blackham voiced appreciation for the public participation and constructive input on the budget from state agencies.

"It was great to see state agencies and individuals work closely with appropriation subcommittees to meet necessary budget adjustments," said Blackham. "The process appears to be working and we are grateful for the suggestions to save taxpayer dollars and reduce the state budget."

The primary debate focused on methods to balance the fiscal year 2002 budget because of the $202.5 million revenue shortfall.

The main difference between the budget balancing approaches favored by Democratic and Republican legislators involve the state's rainy day fund and Interstate 15 savings, according to Senate officials.

Republicans want to look at ways to trim the budget before dipping into state savings. Democrats have proposed taking $30 million out of the rainy day fund and spending $32 million in I-15 savings to balance the budget.

"If you're in a drought, before you start draining the reservoir, you first try implementing conservation measures. Before the Legislature starts draining our state savings, we need to first look at every option to responsibly reduce the state budget," maintained Utah Senate president Al Mansell of Sandy.

The appropriation subcommittees are schedule to meet Jan. 15, Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 from 2 until 5 p.m., according to the officials. The health and human services subcommittee decided to meet Jan. 14 without pay to review budgeting options.

Addressing the proposal of requiring state employees to take a day without pay, the Utah officials indicated that the furlough option is unlikely.

"Committees rejected the option, favoring other ways to meet their objectives without requiring state workers to take a day without pay," said Blackham.

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