Report from the House

Carl Albrecht, Representative

June Special Session — Legislators met both in-person and virtually for the fifth special session June 18. Lawmakers considered 26 bills addressing the state’s budget and policies related to COVID-19. 

None of us expected to be here making incredibly hard decisions about budget cuts and policies to support individuals, organizations and businesses impacted by a global pandemic. 

Because of a multi-pronged approach including the utilization of spending reductions, cash flow management, drawing on rainy day funds and budgetary reserves we will only be voting on overall cuts of 1.7 percent to the state budget.  

That 1.7 percent would be significantly higher, and the cuts much deeper had we not created a state with policies that led to a flourishing economy and strong reserves set aside for this very day. Legislators used approximately 27 percent, or $680 million, of the multiple rainy day funds to backfill budgets. Both education funding and social services funding are increasing through this process. That is truly remarkable considering the times we are in.

Budget — Utah is among 26 states to have published projected revenue shortfalls for fiscal year 2021. Nine of those states have projected budget cuts of 4-10 percent, 12 between 10-20 percent and four at 20 percent or higher. 

Utah was projected to cut 1.7 percent of our budget, by far the lowest cut reported thus far. Below are each appropriations subcommittee’s cuts — 

• Business, Economic Development, and Labor - 3.6 percent cut

• Executive Office of Criminal Justice - 0.6 percent cut

• Higher Education - 2.2 percent cut

• Infrastructure and General Government - 18.8 percent cut

• Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Quality - 2.4 percent cut

• Public Education - 1.3 percent increase

• Retirement and Independent Entities - 0.6 percent cut

• Social Services - 5.4 percent increase

• Executive Appropriations Committee - 26.9 percent cut

Education — During these fiscally challenging times, statefunding is limited and most programs throughout the state are undergoing budget cuts. However, the Legislature’s commitment to education and teachers is evident as we passed an overall increase in public education funding. The weighted pupil unit was increased by 1.8 percent. The legislature also passed a bill to allow school districts to use revenue generated by the capital levy to fund schooldistrict’s general funds for fiscal year 2021. 

H.B. 5011, WPU Value Increase Guarantee — This bill provides that certain revenue be dedicated annually to increase the value of the weighted pupilunit, up to a cumulative amount of $140,500,000. 

Juneteenth – Representative Sandra Hollins read the Utah Legislature’s citation recognizing Juneteenth, a celebration of emancipation and our commitment to the equality of all people.

Unemployment — Below is the latest update on Utah’s unemployment insurance claims. A few things to highlight from last week — 

• Unemployment insurance claims decreased 11.7 percent from the previous week to 4,847 claims.

• This week’s claim volume represents a 329 percent increase from the average weekly claims seen in 2019.

• More than $24.8 million paid in state benefits.

• More than $47 million paid in federal dollars from the CARES Act $600 weekly stimulus. 

• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims had an additional 1,714 individuals file and more than $11.9 million paid in federal dollars last week for PUA benefits.

• Total combined claims from March 15 to June 13 — traditional: 186,609 claims, $681 million benefits paid (66 percent federal funds); PUA: 31,592 claims, $50 million benefits paid (100 percent federal funds).

 Looking ahead, the CARES Act $600 weekly stimulus will go away at the end of July for all unemployment programs. At this time, the unemployment benefit will decrease substantially. We anticipate this will trigger many people to jump back into the workforce even if they are currently considered “job attached.” Those who start now to look for work will have an advantage on those who wait. 

Utah Leads Together 4.0 — The Utah Leads Together 4.0 was released June 17.  

We have been faced with tremendous health, economic and societal challenges in 2020. I’ve been so impressed with the way people across our state have adapted - time and again - to changing circumstances and new challenges. Utahns have managed hospitalizations and we are now positioned totake additional steps to get our economy moving again. 

The updated plan outlines the next phase of our coordinated effort to —  

• Return to work while following public health guidelines.

• Connect unemployed Utahns with available jobs, and

• Utilize the $50-60 million of CARES ACT and other funding to encourage consumers to re-engage in the local economy. 

Utah Leads Together 4.0 lays out 100, 250 and 500-day horizon plans to encourage economic recovery and revitalization. As part of the plan, over the next 100 days, the Department of Workforce Services will work with unemployed Utahns to align worker skills with available jobs, providing employment for over 21,000 Utahns. 

The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Grant Programs bill is designed to set up a framework to use more than $50 million from the CARES Act revenue to target businesses that were most affected by the pandemic and encourage consumers to reengage in our economy.  

The Economic Recovery Grant Programs is a set of grants that will go directly to the business and organizations that have been most affected by this pandemic. The CARES funds must be spent by the end of the year making it important these grants get up and running as soon as possible. 

The 250-day plan will focus on the key foundations of economic growth — investment and productivity. To do this, we will put our state’s excellent credit to work to the advantage of our communities. Bonding for infrastructure projects will allow us to meet current economic needs while also investing in our future economic growth. 

As we look to the 500-day horizon, we have the opportunity to set a new path — create a new normal. We must focus on big investments to capitalize on our competitiveness and business growth.          

We know these have been some difficult months for Utahns - and some very difficult months for many Utahns who have been more directly impacted by the pandemic. Our collective commitment to work together and to keep our eye on Utah’s long-term health and prosperity has us primed to get Utah back on top. 

Get involved and vote — You have either received or will soon receive your primary ballot. We have critical races throughout the state and your voice matters. 

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