The state governor urges lawmakers not to rely too much on this year’s budget surplus for ongoing expenditures.
Governor Spencer Cox warns state lawmakers to be wary of this year’s budget surplus – saying the federal government has probably created much of that surplus by spending money as a “drunk sailor.”
“We do not believe that much of this money is real,” Cox said in a speech at a summit on economic and public policy in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Utah lawmakers will have an estimated $ 1.2 billion in surplus funds to begin drafting the state budget during the upcoming general meeting. But Cox says that with a federal cash infusion that distorts the state’s financial situation, it’s hard to say how much of that increase represents sustained revenue growth.
“We have so much money now, but it’s fake, cotton candy,” he said. “So we have to be very responsible and very careful how we do it.”
The federal government has pumped billions of dollars into Utah between coronavirus aid and the INVEST in America Act, a bilateral infrastructure package. And instead of expecting the current budget surplus to return year after year, some of them should see some of them as a one-off hit and invest them in projects rather than recurring spending that will increase the budget permanently, Cox said.
Although the governor has presented a $ 25 billion budget, state lawmakers are in charge of writing the annual spending plan and do not have to follow its recommendations.
In its budget plan published last month, Cox proposed offering a $ 160 million food purchase loan to help low- and middle-income households recoup the cost of a state food sales tax. He wants to give another $ 400 million from the U.S. Rescue Plan to water conservation and restoration projects and allocate $ 228 million to affordable housing.
He also called for an increase in education spending of $ 1 billion, adding that the state must invest heavily in its public schools to correct the educational losses that students suffered during the pandemic.
Although the Omicron variant is rushing through Utah and its schools, the number of cases of drivers is reaching unprecedented heights, Cox said he hoped the infection would peak and then subside within a few weeks.
“Good luck to those of you who are currently wearing fabric masks,” he said after mentioning the high permeability of the variant. “And by the way, I’d also say good luck with your surgical masks, because every doctor I talk to says yes, they don’t even work with the omicron.”
Dr. Andy Pavia, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, said on Friday that he feared Cox’s remark would cause confusion. Not all masks are created by themselves, he acknowledged, but “it’s a matter of good, better, best” rather than effective vs. ineffective.
Cox recently came under fire for exempting state facilities from using masks imposed by Salt Lake County and other local governments. The governor’s office said in an e-mail that “vaccinations and boosters continue to be the best tool against COVID-19”.
In response to the increase in omicrons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to revise their mask recommendations to encourage people to wear KN95 and N95 face masks rather than cloth, if they can do so consistently, the Washington Post said.
Pavia told reporters on Friday that N95 masks offer the greatest protection against coronavirus and that K94 or KN95 facials are the next best and are more comfortable and easy to obtain. Surgical masks are another in terms of effectiveness, and even cloth masks provide a degree of protection “unless you have nothing else,” the doctor said.
“So Governor Cox was misleading,” Pavia said. “N95 is best if you have access.” KN-95 is better. A surgical mask, especially if everyone wears it, is quite decent. And cloth masks are better than nothing. ”
The Salt Lake Chamber and the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute hosted a summit where House Speaker Brad Wilson and other lawmakers outlined their priorities for a session beginning Tuesday.
There was a broad consensus among Cox and other state leaders that Utah must act this year to preserve the Great Salt Lake and alleviate the crisis in affordable housing.
“We can’t afford to become California,” Cox said. “We won’t let that happen, at least not under my supervision.” So we are going to pass some legislation that can be a little painful for people, but it is right to ensure that future generations enjoy Utah. ”
– Tribune reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this report.