When the Utah Taxpayer began publishing 100 years ago in 1922, the headline at the top of each newsletter read, “Economy In the Expenditure of Public Money”. Since taxation is directly tied to government spending, a bright light must be shown onto government spending. It is vital to understand where and how taxpayer funds are spent and examine if that spending is effective and efficient, or inept and out of control. At the office of the Utah Taxpayers Association there is a quote from a 1923 Utah Taxpayer newsletter that reads, “When new sources of revenue are found, additional ways of spending the public’s money will likewise appear”.
As the Utah Taxpayers Association celebrates its 100 year anniversary and moves into the next 100 years of advocating on behalf of Utah’s taxpayers, we will begin publishing an annual report titled, “The Pork Barrel”. This report will provide taxpayers with a general understanding of how the state budget is growing and include details of the various requests for spending (requests for appropriation) that are proposed, considered and funded.
While detailed information is generally available, very little is discussed when it comes to the details of current spending and future spending whether it is “one time” or “ongoing”. Requests for appropriations often see very little sunlight and by the time the budget is finalized, it is typically too late to examine the hundreds of proposals that are floated.
Utah’s state budget is set to be nearly $26 billion for the fiscal year 2023. As the proposed budget was finalized for fiscal year 2023, the legislature proposed an increase in spending of more than $2 billion.
The additional proposed funding items at the final meetings of the Executive Appropriations Committee included over $510 million in new “ongoing” spending (meaning those items stay in the budget in the future unless removed) and more than $1.54 billion in new “one time” expenditures. This new budget will mark the first time in Utah’s history that more will be spent on social services than on education. That is a noteworthy trend that needs to be noticed.
The details of how taxpayer money is being spent on these new items and the other “base budget” items needs more sunlight and examination as Utah continues to lead the nation in formulating and promoting good tax policy. Taxpayers should be informed on how tax revenues are being spent. Once a spending item is in the “base budget”, it virtually never gets removed and continues on autopilot. That is very good news for those receiving the funding and often bad news for the taxpayers that pay the bill.
As a primer for our upcoming report, there are a few things to highlight that were funded in the final budget:
- $398,000,000 for Higher Education new buildings and rebuilds
- $15,000,000 for “Southern Utah Recycle/Reuse”
- $30,000,000 for “Utah Lake Preservation”
- $15,000,000 for “Electric Vehicle Research” at Utah State University
- $60,000,000 to expand the Bear Lake Marina
- $3,000,000 for “Electric Vehicle Infrastructure in Rural Utah”
- $64,000,000 “Educator Professional Development Time”
- $17,000,000 to relocate Fort Douglas
- $1,000,000 for “St George Musical Theater”
- $500,000 for “Statewide Symphony and Opera Touring”
- $350,000 for “The Peoples of Utah Project”
- $4,200,000 additional annual funding for the “Beverly Taylor Arts Learning Program”
- $9,670,000 additional annual funding for “Early Literacy Outcomes Improvement”
- $4,000,000 additional annual funding for UPSTART
- $60,000,000 additional annual funding for many different social services programs
There were many requests for appropriations that, while not funded in the final budget, were proposed in the 2022 legislative session. Some of those included:
- $5,000,000 for building “a series of championship-level pickleball courts”
- $5,000,000 for building a new exhibit at Hogle Zoo featuring Utah wildlife
- $100,000 for “America’s Freedom Festival” in Provo
- $2,000,000 for only a feasibility study for a possible bridge from Bullfrog to Halls Crossing in Lake Powell, Utah
Watch for the inaugural edition of the “Pork Barrel” report from the Utah Taxpayers Association in the coming months.