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That’s a first: State lawmakers prepare for ‘virtual’ special session

In order to avoid a hefty deficit, state lawmakers are planning what will likely be the first-ever virtual special session. (Colby Walker | KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The state government is anticipating a hefty deficit when the budget year runs out at the end of June. That reality will force lawmakers to reconvene for a special legislative session.

This becomes more tricky when thrust into the middle of worldwide pandemic, though.

Logging on for a special session

The solution looks like it will be a first-of-its-kind ‘virtual’ special session.

“We’re going to have one,” said Senate President Stuart Adams. “We’ll probably have enough cash but we have a potential problem that we’re going to have to solve. Even if the revenue numbers hadn’t changed, we’d have to come in to do that.”

He said lawmakers are looking to transfer an estimated $840 million from the new $20 billion budget that passed earlier this month.

According to lawmakers, the money will come from about $250 million budgeted for construction. That budget currently includes funds for a new state office building at the Capitol complex.

The sooner, the better

In terms of when this will happen, most state leaders are hoping sooner rather than later.

“Having clarity in the federal government actions is helpful. I’m impressed with their efforts and they will be helpful for our state,” House Speaker Brad Wilson told the Deseret News. “We will be discussing the need (for a special session) and items to consider over the next few days with the Senate and the governor.”

Rhetoric from the governor’s office does nothing to dispel the notion that such a session will be coming soon.

“Our office is coordinating closely with legislative leadership and working to identify which aspects of Utah’s coronavirus response should be accomplished by executive order, and which should be done through legislation,” said Anna Lehnardt, the governor’s spokeswoman.

We will continue to coordinate with the Legislature to determine at what point a special session will be most useful and necessary.

Essentially, leaders say this is just a paper move. Yet, it’s an important one for the state to prevent a deficit that could greatly affect their credit rating.

Right now, budget cuts are all but certain to happen. Nonetheless the government hopes to avoid having to layoff some state employees. Whether that becomes necessary will depend on how long the outbreak lasts.