Glen Canyon Dam under construction

Legisplaining: Governor’s Budget Proposal

davidwicaiBlog, Legislature

Every year in early December, the governor releases his proposed budget for the Legislature, and the public, to consider.

Because the Legislature controls the budget, the governor’s budget serves more as an important starting point for negotiations between the governor, Senate, and House leaders. But that doesn’t mean the budget proposal lacks importance. The governor’s staff spends months developing a balanced budget plan and use it to send a clear message to legislators about their priorities.

The proposed budget, unveiled six-plus weeks before the session begins, doesn’t require a deep study of nitty-gritty details. Look instead at the narrative the governor and his staff wants to build and identify trends running throughout the proposals.

Thankfully, the governor’s office makes this easy by providing a two-page infographic. The document highlights areas of focus, as well as significant increases and other budgetary decisions. On this document, words generally matter more than dollar figures because the state revenue estimates are revised monthly. That can mean the budget will increase or decrease by hundreds of millions of dollars before the end of the session.

Often, the narrative will follow one or two of the following themes:

  • Education Matters: State leaders will always stress the importance of education, but if a governor wants to make it their priority for the year they have to include spending that goes beyond the income tax revenue. Typically, this happens through specialized programs or performance raises for teachers.
  • Tax Reform: Whenever the state has a surplus, many Republicans will push to lower taxes. Governor’s have typically taken a more pragmatic approach that attempts to make the tax burden more equitable.
  • Infrastructure: This can happen when the state has a surplus and can avoid bonding for major projects, or when the economy has slowed and the governor wants to give it a boost. The latter option, however, means bonding for projects and Utah lawmakers have an aversion to debt.
  • Prepper: If a governor has immediate concerns about the economy, their budget will reflect an emphasis on building the rainy day fund and shoring up essential programs.
  • Pet Projects: If the state has solid savings and sound infrastructure, and the governor sees a strong economy for the foreseeable future, the proposed budget will highlight innovative programs that that in lean years would be a luxury. These could be educational pilots, support of growing business sectors, or quality-of-life initiatives. (Hint: This theme will have a starring role this year).

Other themes may emerge, although many of those will be one-time efforts reflective of larger issues or politics. But generally, at least one of the above themes will play a prominent role.