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Agencies urge Utah Legislature to use rainy day funds, not budget cuts

FILE: United States and Utah flags flying in the wind in from of the Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — 18 agencies serving the homeless, low-income and others in need in Utah want the legislature to use rainy day funds rather than making drastic budget cuts. 

Mark Harman with the Utah Education Association said the COVID-19 pandemic left a number of kids vulnerable in Utah. 

“They need more individual instruction,” Harman said. “Not less. They need educators who have time to provide more individual attention when the rest of their world is falling apart.” 

The 18 agencies in question serve and advocate for Utahns with disabilities, refugees and others in addition to low-income families and children. 

Pamela Silberman with the International Rescue Committee worries the proposed cuts could shut down some medical services permanently. 

“We’re seeing COVID has revealed huge problems that we knew existed in our Medicare – medical system. And this is just going to exacerbate that by limiting care for the most vulnerable,” Silberman said. 

The rainy day or reserve funds for education and other programs in Utah are estimated at more than $5 billion over five years. Those agencies say using that money to meet this year’s $1.5 billion shortfall would leave Utah with plenty for the future. 

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, told KSL he hopes other lawmakers will look carefully at the request before a planned special session to address budget concerns next week. 

“Then as we move forward and we get these income projections that are a little more accurate, and more the reality of it. I think that’s when the decision is really going to get made,” Johnson said. 

By law, Utah must operate with a balanced budget, which needs to be in place by the start of the fiscal year on July 1. Legislative leaders have told state agencies and programs to prepare budgets with cuts up to ten percent.