Lawmakers, Agencies Hawk Pet Projects at Capitol

Feb 12, 2014

Lawmakers have been talking for weeks about how to spend taxpayer dollars. Now they are drawing up priority lists in hopes of snagging some of the state’s $5 billion budget for their favorite projects.

Agencies and state lawmakers have been stepping up their sales pitches for pet projects all week. They want to get on the Legislature’s priority lists so they can get some of the $300 million that isn’t already committed to schools, roads and other state programs. Rep. Mike McKell helps lead the subcommittee that’s choosing the most important natural resources, agriculture and environmental projects. Earlier this week, the panel gave presenters just three minutes each to make their pitches for 67 projects.

“I apologize for the marathon,” he said. “We have just way too many requests today.”

Rural Utah lawmakers want nearly $2 million to help keep the sage grouse off the federal endangered species list. One lawmaker asked for money to improve public access at Bear Lake. Others requested funding to control prairie dogs and to make the Jordan River safer for boaters. Randy Parker of the state fair board asked for $750,000. He says rain kept visitors away and left the fair board high and dry last year.

Our revenue was adversely impacted for terrible weather,” he said. “In the last 19 years, it’s the first time that the State Fair Corp. has asked for an emergency appropriation.”

Advocates for air-quality projects want millions for enforcing wood-stove laws, public education, scientific research, clean school buses and other programs. Rep. Brad Dee reminded budget-makers of the public’s priorities.

“As we make a commitment to the clean air, which is obviously very important in Utah at this particular time, I think it’s important that we show a long-term commitment,” he said.

This budget salesmanship is expected to continue until lawmakers finalize their priority list.  And that may not be until the last night of the Legislature.