By Maren McInnes
Capital West News
Money makes the world go ‘round and keeps the government going. If governments don’t set a budget, it won’t have the power to spend funds and thus, it is forced to shut down. Certainly many people remember the National Government Shutdown of 2013 that occurred when Congress could not agree on a budget.
Fortunately, a shutdown is far less likely with the Utah State Legislature. Still, passing a budget is the most important task during the session.
The budgeting process starts before the Legislative session begins. Although the Legislature determines the budget, the governor is required to develop a budget proposal and deliver it to the Legislature at least 30 days before the general session. However, the legislature has the option to discard the proposal. Once the general session starts, the budget is divided up based on policy and sent to appropriations subcommittees.
In 2012, Utah’s total expenditures reached $12 billion. Figuring out how and where to spend that sum is a task for the appropriations committee and subcommittees. In Utah, there is one Executive Appropriations Committee, which is made up of nine Senators and nine Representatives. Beneath the Executive Appropriations Committee are eight subcommittees that are topic specific. All of the legislators are assigned to at least one appropriations committee and Representatives and Senators serve together on each committee.
When the subcommittees convene, they usually first review ongoing expenditures from the previous year. Then, they have about a week to draft their base budgets for floor consideration. They have a few weeks after the initial proposal to finalize their budget proposals for the Executive Appropriations Committee. During that time, they have meetings with other legislators, executive branch officials, and members of the public on various budgetary issues. Most debate occurs in the subcommittees as opposed to the floor because the budget is so large. The public can listen to a live streaming of these committee meetings at le.utah.gov.
The Executive Appropriations Committee has set a deadline for themselves on when the budget must be complete: three days before the end of the session. Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said that last year the committee worked weekends and on several occassions, past midnight to complete the job.
“The most important thing we do is the budget,” said Okerlund. “If we did nothing more than pass the budget every year—and we do a good job passing that budget—probably the state continues to run.”
By the end of the third week of the 2015 Legislative session, appropriations subcommittees are still at work trying to divide up the state pot of gold to the best venues and causes.
Source: Brown, Adam. Utah Politics Under the Dome, 2nd ed.