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Gov. Herbert makes budget recommendations for next fiscal year

(Gov. Herbert speaking to the audience at This Is The Place Heritage Park. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – More money for education, an increase in mental health care funding, and a larger focus on cleaning Utah’s air.  Those are some of the things Governor Gary Herbert is recommending for the next fiscal year’s budget as he announced them at This Is The Place Heritage Park.

Even though there is a lot of debate about Utah’s new tax code, Governor Herbert wouldn’t give his personal opinion about the referendum against it.  He says they can only wait to see what the voters decide and adjust accordingly.

“I have to respond to the law that’s currently at hand, and that’s that the tax reform has been voted on and put in place,” Herbert says.

However, he believes the state needs to make big changes if they’re going to handle the projected growth.

“Just like the pioneers prepared for people to come and join them later on, smooth out the trail, we need to be doing the same thing for the people that come after us.”

Among the governor’s top recommendations is $290 million in ongoing education money, and $2 million in one-time money.  That includes over $34 million to improve the salaries and health insurance of higher education employees.

Also, he’s calling on the Board of Regents to freeze tuition prices, although, he’s not sure if the board is going to agree to that.

“The Board of Regents has not yet defined what ‘affordability’ in higher education means.  So, until they get a definition of that and complete the analysis, we think they should, in fact, freeze the tuition increases for this next year,” Herbert says.

He’s also calling for over $30 million to improve the state’s mental health care system.  That money would go toward creating mobile crisis units to administer to rural areas, and to create a new forensic unit within the state hospital to handle an increased number of referrals.

The governor is also asking for $100 million for projects to clean the air.  Electric car infrastructure would get $66 million and another $34 million would be set aside to make mass transit more convenient.  The governor asked for the same amount last year, but wasn’t able to get it.  However, Utah Clean Air Partnership Executive Director Thom Carter is more optimistic this year.

“One of the major obstacles for getting people engaged in air quality solutions is convenience,” Carter says.

State officials say Utah leads the nation with over 33% job growth since the great recession.