Overview of 2016 Session
Most Utahns enjoy a pretty high quality of life. We live in a state with one of the strongest and most diverse economies in the nation, very little unemployment and high wage growth. Our population is young, our families are large and though our state government has the ability to tax only about one-third of our land, we continue to grow and prosper.
We are consistently able to do more, with less, than most other states. The credit for this goes to a hardworking populace that values productivity and a Legislature made up of people who believe that individuals do best when allowed to regulate themselves, while acknowledging the crucial role of government in providing certain protections and basic services.
Funding for education consistently takes priority in the Legislature and this year $445 million in new money was directed to public and higher education, amounting to 2/3 of new spending. This included a Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) increase of 3 percent, an amount comparable to another ¾ percent WPU for equalization, $15 million for technology programs in the classroom, an expanded emphasis on school readiness for at-risk children and a number of new buildings on university campuses. Additionally, nearly $60 million was placed into the state’s Education Rainy Day Fund this year.
During the 2016 legislative session, there was significant focus on keeping our communities safe and improving quality of life as lawmakers looked to more effectively deal with increasing levels of homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and criminal recidivism within our state. A number of bills were passed this year to help with better integration of services for those dealing with these problems, and additional money was appropriated to support state workers in areas such as corrections, law enforcement and probation & parole.
A new system will allow for the tracking and sharing of data among various agencies and localities in order to more effectively and efficiently help those who need it, with the goal of saving money and improving lives. Success in these areas will lead to safer communities, less dependency and higher workforce participation, which benefit all of us.
There was also a notable focus on preparing for future growth and the many challenges that come with it, especially in the middle of a desert. Water infrastructure, once the funding domain of the federal government, has now shifted to the state as demands for everything at the federal level have increased. Utah this year set in place a funding mechanism to facilitate financing of future water projects, while at the same time establishing a system for gathering better data to allow for more effective water conservation and planning.
Air quality bills were also again on the radar of many in the Legislature. A fund was established that would allow taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to be used for clean air projects, and it became easier for individuals to choose to use solar power to provide energy for their homes. There was also additional money appropriated for construction of a technical support center for the Department of Environmental Quality and for additional air quality monitoring, research and awareness.
Even as we deal effectively with the inevitable difficulties that come with the dynamics of a state like Utah, we learn that there is always more that can be done to improve our quality of life. At no point in time do we stop trying to improve, to innovate, to seek out new solutions to old problems. Hopefully this year that is exactly what we were able to accomplish.
- Total Budget: $15.1B, balanced
- State Funds: $6.4B
- Debt and Savings
- Paid down $335M in General Obligation debt
- No new debt authorized this session
- Total formal budget reserves of $491M
- Public/Higher Education
- $445M combined = 2/3 of new revenue
- $60 million into Education Rainy Day Fund
- $1.7M for additional staff at the State Office of Education
- Up to $4.4M for new financial management system at SOE
- WPU increase of 3% + .75% equivalent for equalization
- $16.8M for technology in classrooms (k-12)
- $17.2M for early learning initiatives
- $6.4M for arts programs
- $$7.2M to support targeted at-risk or rural student populations
- $2.5M ongoing for applied technology college campus program expansion
- $800,000 increase ongoing for applied technology college equipment
- $42.5M for SLCC Career and Technical Education Center
- $8M for SUU new Business Building and repurposed building
- $38M, funded over two years, for USU Biological Science Building
- $32M, funded over two years, for UVU Performing Arts Building
- Criminal Justice
- $2.4M new for Corrections
- $1M for Guardian ad Litem
- $1M for Highway Patrol
- $600,000 for State Court Judges
- $1.75M for 15 additional Adult Probation & Parole agents
- $5M in increases for county jails
- $1.5M one-time/$500,000 ongoing for Indigent Defense Commission
- $2M one-time to begin development of a statewide data coordination system to support JRI
- Social Services
- $10M to address homelessness
- $500,000 toward drug overdose programs
- $951,000 for increased monitoring of substance abuse treatment fraud
- Air Quality
- $6M for construction of a technical support center
- $1M for air quality monitoring
- $400,000 for research and awareness
- $150,000 for clean fuel conversion grant program
Funding for Utah’s school children and college students once more dominates the $14.5 billion budget for 2016. The total increase for both higher and public education was $445 million – over $20 million more than originally sought by the governor.
The legislature is appropriating $94 million to accommodate growth for a projected 9,700 new public school students this fall, as well as a nearly $74 million expenditure representing a 3% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, (WPU). Monies headed to public education also include $20.4 million in ongoing funding for Charter School equalization and almost $17 million, $10 million of that ongoing, targeted to improve technology in our schools.
Construction on Utah’s college and university campuses is another big-ticket budgetary item, including more than $113 million approved for new buildings at Utah State and Utah Valley Universities and the West Point campus of Salt Lake Community College.
In 2015, the Legislature took a major step toward equity in public education by bringing up districts with a lower property tax base in line with others around the state having a much higher property tax base, with the passage of S.B. 97. This legislation sought to make the school funding formula more fair and provide greater opportunity for all children, wherever they might live throughout the State of Utah. Charter schools were left out of that.
Last year the Legislature established the Charter School Funding Task Force to look at this issue and investigate possible solutions. The task force was given the responsibility of studying charter school funding provisions and the method for determining their enrollment for funding purposes.
The culmination of the research and review of the task force has come in the form of S.B. 38, which includes a number of the task force recommendations including: continuation of grade-level weighting, changes to school district allocations for students enrolled in charter schools and the inclusion of recreational facilities in the local replacement formula for those schools.
The State of Utah is constitutionally mandated to provide a free education for all of its children, and it has chosen to do so through both traditional and charter schools. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that all of these students are given an equal opportunity for success.
Additional education-related bills include SB 101, High Quality School Readiness Program Expansion, which establishes a school readiness program for students deemed eligible for an Intergenerational Poverty program and creates the Intergenerational Poverty School Readiness Scholarship Program. HB 201, removes SAGE scores from teacher evaluations.
Medicaid / Homelessness / JRI
Homelessness, justice reform and Medicaid were all addressed this year in a comprehensive fashion with HB 436, HB 348, HB 437 and HB 328. This new structure will allow the state to more effectively assist those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, while also reforming our justice system.
This year’s Medicaid expansion (HB 437) will provide a program of coverage through an expansion of traditional Medicaid that will preserve services and benefits to the core group of over 300,000 current Medicaid recipients, including children and disabled adults.
Newly-covered populations will include the chronically homeless, individuals involved in the justice system and those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment. A new data system will also be implemented to allow the state to align programs and track and share information to more efficiently use resources.
The 2016 budget also fully funds consensus Medicaid growth estimates for the traditional Medicaid population of over $40 million.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants legal representation and Utah is one of only two states that leaves funding up to the counties. Some claim that this has led to ineffective legal representation.
A state task force has been studying the issue for four years and their recommendations are the basis for SB 155. It creates the Utah Indigent Defense Commission and gives the Commission authority to collect data to study the provision of indigent criminal defense services statewide. It also authorizes them to assist local jurisdictions to meet minimum standards of effective representation and establishes an account to provide financial assistance to indigent defense systems throughout the state that are underfunded and unable to adequately protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime.
Drug fraud prevention / treatment center reform
As the need for substance abuse and mental health treatment escalates, it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that limited dollars are being used appropriately and those seeking help are actually receiving it.
SB 123 and HB 259 will go a long way in helping to detect and weed out fraud and abuse surrounding these types of facilities. Those seeking services, as well as those paying for services, will have greater assurance that suitable treatments are being administered, and in an appropriate manner.
SB 123 permits a local government to request that the Office of Licensing for the Department of Human Services notify that local government of any new human services program license applications within their local jurisdiction. In doing this, a local governmental entity will be more aware of the programs administered within their community and thus, better able to monitor where necessary.
HB 259 requires that rules be made to define what constitutes an outpatient treatment program and to develop minimum standards for licensed providers of substance abuse and mental health services. In order to address existing problems, the bill also requires the establishment of a procedure for insurer access to licensee records regarding services or supplies billed to the insurer, and to set in place procedures for the investigation and processing of complaints against licensees.
Other Social Services
HB 149, Death Reporting and Investigation Information Regarding Controlled Substances, requires the medical examiner to provide a report to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) when it is determined that a death was as a result of poisoning or overdose involving a controlled substance. Each practitioner who may have written a prescription for that controlled substance will then be notified.
HB 245, Local Health Department Amendments, allows for the option within a county to combine the local health department with the mental health and the substance abuse authorities. It also permits multiple counties to join together to form a multicounty united health department.
Law Enforcement / National Guard
The long-awaited body camera bill finally came to fruition with the passage of HB 300. It establishes minimum guidelines for the activation or use of cameras and makes most recordings public record. It protects as private those recordings that take place inside a home or residence except for those that depict the commission of a crime, record an encounter that results in death or injury or is the subject of a complaint or legal proceeding. It also requires the officer, when entering a private residence, to give notice of the use of the camera.
HB 98, National Guard Death Benefit Amendments, provides for a $100,000 death benefit for the next-of-kin of a National Guard member who dies while on state active duty.
HB 237, Income Tax Contribution for Clean Air, allows anyone filing an income tax return in Utah to designate a contribution to the newly-established Clean Air Fund.
HB 244 allows solar energy companies to sell power directly to a residential customer who participates in a net metering program. This reduces the upfront costs to customers who have, in the past, needed to either purchase or lease equipment. The solar company and customer enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), whereby the consumer agrees to purchase power directly from the solar company.
There were also additional resources invested in clean air projects and initiatives with $6 million appropriated for the construction of a technical support center for the Department of Environmental Quality, a $1 million appropriation for air quality monitoring and $400,000 for air quality research and awareness.