Utah lawmakers close in on final budget proposal without deal in sight on Medicaid plans

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SALT LAKE CITY — With only days to go before the Utah Legislature adjourns, lawmakers remained at an impasse on Tuesday on Medicaid expansion and it appeared they might wrap up the budget without resolving one of the biggest spending disputes of the year.

State senators were supporting a Medicaid plan proposed by the governor that would cost $25 million for two years. But lawmakers in the House of Representatives have instead put forward their own plan, which would cost about $32 million a year.

With the House and Senate at impasse, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he would consider calling a special session to address the issue later this year.

Here's how the budget is shaping up without the Medicaid expansion.

PUBLIC EDUCATION

In his budget proposal in December, Herbert asked to send about $160 million to school districts and charter schools to use for teacher salaries and other expenses. That would have been the highest increase in 25 years.

Utah lawmakers instead settled on a smaller increase of $104 million.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, and co-chair of the Legislature's main budget committee, said Tuesday that Utah would have to pull $95 million from transportation funds to meet the governor's request on education.

Hillyard said it doesn't make sense to raid that money when lawmakers already are looking to raise the gas tax this year to help pay billions of dollars' worth of road and bridge repair over the next few decades.

Lawmakers are also setting aside about $52 million to help pay for about 8,000 additional students expected to be enrolled in Utah public schools next year.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND BUILDINGS

The budget proposal sets aside $11 million for dams that the federal government has identified as being in need of repairs or replacement. Washington has agreed to pitch in another $80 million for the safety project, according to Hillyard.

Lawmakers are also setting aside money for a number of new state buildings and building improvements. There's $34 million for a University of Utah science building, $20 million for a science building at Snow College, and $32 million for new buildings at Dixie Applied Technology College.

The budget also includes $2.8 million for exterior security at the State Capitol, most of which will go toward installing bollard-style barriers around the capitol to keep vehicles from driving up to buildings.

State officials began studying Capitol security after a Layton man in a pickup truck drove up two-dozen granite steps outside the Capitol in 2013. The driver was arrested as he tried to enter a locked room on the third floor.

PRISON REFORMS

Lawmakers have set aside $9 million for a package of criminal justice reforms to reduce the likelihood that prison inmates re-offend once they've served their sentences. The money will go toward programs such as mental health services, therapists and specialist to help with other treatments and transitioning programs.

OFFICIAL SALARIES

After a recommendation by a state panel, lawmakers have set aside $184,900 to raise the salary of Utah's governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor.

Starting in 2017, the governor would earn $150,000 a year, up from the current $109,900 salary. Pay for the state's other top officials would jump to salaries ranging from $135,000 to $142,500. They currently make $104,400 a year.

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