Social service groups are calling on Utah lawmakers to rethink earmarks. They are taking their case to the Capitol as the Legislature’s budget-makers write up their priority list for unfunded projects in the coming week .
More than half a billion dollars will go toward earmarks this budget year. A coalition of advocacy groups says that practice means transportation and water projects are getting funded at the expense of human beings in need.
“The Legislature has been robbing Peter to pay Paul with these earmarks for the last decade,” says Matthew Weinstein is with Voices for Utah Children, a coalition member. “They’ve exploded to the point that they’ve taken over 18 percent of the General Fund budget.”
The coalition has many examples. It notes that the turnover for people who assist Utahns with disabilities is 86 percent a year because wages are so low. And there’s a shortage of forty-six thousand affordable housing units.
The coalition wants lawmakers to update transportation funding and end earmarks. Gov. Gary Herbert cut back earmarks in his budget, but lawmakers disagree that transportation can spare that money. Senate budget leader Lyle Hillyard of Logan says it’s hard to decide which programs get the remaining funding.
“The human services issues become really, really important," he says. "And I think anyone looking at them would feel the same way.”
Lawmakers have until next Friday to get their budget ready for printing.