Thursday, February 02, 2006

Spending Utah's Surplus

...Wherein Tyler is revealed as the evil reactionary bad man we knew he was all along.

Ah, budget surplus. The two words that get certain groups of people all kinds of excited, especially those who see more ways to spend my money. Certain groups of people like editorialists.

But here is the rub - it's a one-year surplus. So here's a proposal - how about limiting, as much as possible, additional growth in annual programs? In other words, dedicate as much as possible to capital expenses (new buildings, new roads, new equipment, other ONE-TIME expenses) as possible, and find money in the current budget (using some now freed-up capital funding) for operations? Hire some new teachers, and pay the current ones more, for the trade-off of building less buildings in the next few years.

If capital funds aren't needed, consider paying off some bonds, protecting our ability to raise capital funds down the road.

(Side note: Is anyone besides me getting annoyed by those UEA "No Excuses" ads? Oh no, Ms. Union Boss. I hateses children. Let 'em play in the street instead. Sheesh.)

But that's just me. I would like to know why we managed to get such a large surplus - obviously the forecasts were overly conservative (and that's good) - but what factors pushed us so far over? Immigration, better economic growth than expected, or we just got lucky?

But since Jamo got this ball rolling, and using this site, here goes. So if I were lord and master, and could get the Legislature to vote my way, here's my breakdown:

Repeal the sales tax on food: $165 million
This is something we should all get behind, as elimnation of this tax will do something to help the working poor - and the rest of us.

Reduce income tax: $60 million
This will reduce the income tax from 7% to 5%. A reduction of the overall tax burden is something I can get behind - as Utah has one of the highest household tax burdens in the country, with the ninth-highest in the nation and the highest in the West - but will we be able to pay for it later? No idea. This is one item where understanding how the surplus happened would be really nice to know.

Public Education: $300 million
Yes, Utah has the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Utah also has the fewest tax-payers per student. And unlike some states, Utah doesn't have the land royalties that some states do to get more cash. So something has to give. (A good summary of this is here.)

I'll kick in this much - but spend it on "one-time," capital expenses, and scale down capital expenses in future budgets. That will free up some cash for more annual spending (more teachers, better pay, more supplies), spending that will still be there for years to come.

Higher Education: $150 million
Same as above.

Public Safety/Corrections. $100 million
Here, I break my own rule. Because the state of Utah has a problem here, folks. Our
Crime Lab is underfunded, and as a result is falling behind in its duties.

Public safety is the primary purpose of government. This needs to get fixed. Better lab, hire some more technicians, and pay them well enough to hang on to them. And find a way to make these changes permanent - perhaps by taking some of this money to fund other capital needs, and using that money for permanent additions to the crime lab.

Arts/Culture: $0
Yes, I hate warm fuzzy puppies too. Come on. Ask me for a donation - ask me for a donation on my tax form, if you want - but when we are arguing over education dollars, this is frippery.

Healthcare: $0
No using the surplus for expansion of these programs. If you want to put more money into this, find it elsewhere in the budget. Because these expenses will be here next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and they will only get bigger.

Roads: $70 million
Again, this is chiefly for capital items. Sink as much of this into seismic safety improvements as possible.

Social Programs: $0
Same reason as healthcare.

Economic Development: $0
Go fund your own construction site, developers.

Water Development: $75 million
Again, this is a capital project, and a necessary one. Utah will soon be hitting the limits of its existing water infrastructure, especially along the Wasatch Front. At some point, we will need a pipeline to bring Bear River water to the Wasatch Front - let's start paying for it now.

Rainy Day Fund: $80 million
$80 million here gives Utah a nice round $250 million for bad times. This money would allow the state to react immediately to an emergency - without waiting for federal funds to show up. Any opportunity to build this fund should be taken.

Total = $1,000,000,000

Now, I am 100% certain this will be ignored. But now you know what I think.


At 11:54 PM, Blogger Tyler Farrer said...

I couldn't agree more. Our taxes need to be used for core government functions.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Maine Man said...

You can be sure that with a $1 billion surplus that next year everyone will increase their spending to avoid letting it happen again.

Tyler, I agree that they should find out why it happened, but then they should replicate the "problem" next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and...

Then, the proposed tax cuts should be made permanent: no more food sales tax nor income tax.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

I think it's funny how everyone is so eager to spend the money so quickly. It's burning a hole in the government's pocket. I really hope it doesn't get squandered on stupid things immediately.

Tyler's ideas seem acceptable.


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