Good news budget plan will boost schools

Good news budget plan will boost schools

(Utah) Buoyed by an expanding job base and strong demand for real estate, the Utah economy will generate some $1.3 billion in unexpected revenue for state coffers next year—with the lion’s share of those dollars going to schools.

Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a budget plan earlier this week that provides K-12 schools with $208 million in new spending, bringing the total amount of state support to $5 billion.

“I'm grateful for the strong economic performance that has created this revenue growth,” Herbert said at a press briefing. “As we head into the legislative session, we look forward to investing a sizable portion of this money in education while also returning a sizable portion of these revenues to the taxpayer.”

Utah, which boasts an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent—nearly a full percentage point under the national average—had a net in-migration of over 100,000 people since 2014.

The state’s capital, Salt Lake City, has emerged as one the nation’s newest tech centers, elevated by the $3.6 billion reconstruction of the city’s airport.

Another stream of revenue is also expected after the governor signed legislation authorizing the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in November.

Overall, the Utah state government will spend $16.6 billion under the governor’s plan. The state would also have $575 million  reserved in a rainy day fund, and be one of only nine states to have maintained a AAA credit rating, according to Herbert’s office.

The governor would increase locally-controlled spending by $170 million next year, which amounts to a 4 percent jump in per-pupil spending, even as the statewide enrollment is expected to grow by almost 8,000 students.

The governor’s budget came as welcome news to school officials that have struggled to make ends meet during the recession years.

“The reaction was a very robust, ‘Wow!,” Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, told the Desert News.

“We've not seen such a thing, so we’re just kind of absorbing it right now and we're not sure exactly where this is going to go,” he said. “We’ve seen large surpluses in the past, and estimates in the past, but we’re excited about its potential. We’ll just have to see where it goes.” more