Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says that the state has handcuffed itself by automatically socking away a portion of public money for things like road projects.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says that the state has handcuffed itself by automatically socking away a portion of public money for things like road projects. For the second year in a row, he's asking lawmakers to consider chipping away at the increasing amount of earmarked dollars.
The General Fund is expected to grow by about $180 million this year, but $77 million of the money will be automatically earmarked and added to a growing pool of state money, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.
“It may be a very good place to put it, but there ought to be a discussion about it,” Herbert said, explaining that the account takes away flexibility regarding how the funds are spent. “We're coming to a point where there's a crossroads decision, because if we don't reduce some of the earmarks, we will have a difficult time funding education, particularly higher education.”
He wants the legislature to take $10 million out of the earmarked funds this year and use it for early interventions for at-risk kids, like full-day kindergarten.
Lawmakers rebuffed Herbert's request to start reducing earmarks last year. Some, like Layton Republican Sen. Stuart Adams, say the earmarks gave the state a useful cushion to help keep the budget whole during the recession.
About 85 percent of the earmarked funds go to transportation projects, and Adams said putting money into roads rather than new state programs will allow the state to slow or pause construction if the economy goes south.
Money spent on programs and salaries could mean shutting down the programs and laying people off, he said.
“Transportation has been historically that accordion that we put money into and then take it out of when the budget either swings down or up,” said Adams, a former chairman of the Transportation Commission.
“No one would say we shouldn't earmark income tax money for education, and I'm not sure anyone would say you ought to throw all that on the table and let it compete against other needs,” he continued. “I just think earmarks have this bad connotation, like somehow it's a pet project.”
But not all lawmakers seem to agree. This year, at least one person appears likely to help Herbert achieve his goal.
Rep. Dan McCay, a Riverton Republican, is having legislation drafted that would do away with all non-transportation earmarks.
That move would return about $90 million to the general fund but remove about $36 million saved for water projects, $8 million earmarked for anti-smoking campaigns and cancer research, $5 million dedicated to alcohol law enforcement and $18 million meant to help bring tourists to Utah.
McCay says earmarking money eliminates regular review of whether it is being spent efficiently.
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